An NYPD lieutenant is being credited for cracking the investigation into Karina Vetrano, who was killed while jogging in her Queens neighborhood. NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said, "One of my lieutenants who works in my office lives there, lives in the community and came to remember a stop. He followed up on a memory of his when someone was stopped for suspicious behavior in that community."
Vetrano's body was found in Spring Creek Park on August 2nd by her father and police officers, hours after she left her Howard Beach home. Her father, Phil Vetrano, had been worried that he couldn't reach her, and he joined the search. Police managed to track her cellphone to the deserted, heavily weeded park.
The 30-year-old was found with broken teeth, as well as signs of sexual abuse. Last year, Boyce had said that she "put up a ferocious fight right until the end," also noting, "She also had bruising on her body, we believe from being dragged through those woods" and that she had weeds in her hands: "She was grabbing onto anything she could at that point."
Six months after the killing, authorities announced that Brooklyn resident Chanel Lewis, 20, had been arrested for the crime.
Last May, police received a 911 call about a suspicious person in the area, and, according to the Post, Lt. John Russo "spotted Lewis" who "was either prowling in back yards or casing parked cars at the time... The cop, who has family in the area, called other officers to the scene to take down Lewis's information."
Fast forward to 2017: "Ten days ago, Lieutenant Russo remembered that episode and told detectives," the NY Times reports. "The officer who arrived that night in May was contacted, and a search of his memo book led to Mr. Lewis’s name."
Police found that Lewis had also been given summonses since 2013: "One was for urinating in public. Two others involved breaking the rules in the park where Vetrano's body was found," per WABC 7.
When police approached Lewis last week, they say he voluntarily offered a DNA sample—which allegedly matches DNA samples found from Vetrano's body and cellphone. From NBC New York: "Law enforcement sources say they also collected clothing from Lewis' home in East New York, including a hat that may have been worn during the attack. He initially didn't speak with detectives, nor did he ask for an attorney, law enforcement sources tell NBC 4 New York. Around 5 a.m. the next morning, the sources say Lewis told one of the detectives, 'I want to make things right.'"
Lewis reportedly told cops, "I was angry. I had some issues at home. I just lost it. When I saw her, I just hit her and kept hitting her. I hit her and choked her."
Mayor de Blasio thanked Russo yesterday, saying, "This was an extremely tough case to crack when it came to the murder of Ms. Vetrano, and you’ve done an amazing job."
— Kemberly Richardson (@kemrichardson7) February 6, 2017
Chief of Detectives Boyce said that finding Lewis was like finding "a needle in a haystack" because he has no criminal record. But sources claim that Lewis has a history of hatred towards females and once asked a school administrator, "What happens if I bring a knife to school?"
Lewis, who reportedly confessed on video, was charged with second-degree murder, and the Queens D.A.'s office says the investigation is still continuing. Legal Aid is representing him, and chief defender Tina Luongo said, "We have a full defense team working on this case, including our DNA unit dedicated to scrutinizing the evidence collected by local authorities. We are spending this critical time getting to know our client and his family, and reviewing all the facts associated with this case. We caution everyone - including the media - not to rush to immediate judgment. As our judicial system affords, Mr. Lewis is entitled to fairness and due process."
Lewis' family doesn't believe the charges, and his half-sister told the Times, "He loves girls. He has nieces, sisters, his mom."
Vetrano's father posted an update on the GoFundMe page that was raising money for a reward to find Karina's killer:
Hello everyone. As you all know by now we have caught this piece of shit. as we expected he is a loner looser. He will pay for his crime.
I want to thank all of you who have supported us so long.
Now we can use all this money that you very generous people have donated. I mentioned in the beginning that we would use this money for charities that Karina would want. I would also like all of your input , you all donated and you should have a say. Message me and give an opinion. Some choices are St Jude childrens hospital, ASPCA, a scholership to Molloy her highschool. and many more.
Over $288,000 has been donated to the fund.