Shortly after 5:46pm on August 2, 2015, Karina Vetrano stepped over the low guardrail (top right) at the corner of 83rd St. & 164th Avenue. She slipped past the chain link fence and though the invasive weeds and entered Spring Creek Park as she and her father had done countless times before to go for a run. The area is less than a block away from her family home. Her lifeless body was found less than a half a mile away along a dirt service road surrounded on both sides by a solid wall of eight feet high invasive phragmites which She was found strangled, beaten and partly nude. Her teeth were knocked out and bruises consistent with being dragged through the weeds. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.
"She was unlucky that day," Philip Vetrano the victim's father said, commenting on the random nature of his daughter meeting the suspect on that terrible summer day.
By Geoffrey Croft
Police arrested a 20-year-old male from East New York for the heinous murder of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano.
Chanel Lewis was taken into custody on Saturday night at 6:00 in connection with the brutal August 2, 2015 murder after his DNA matched evidence taken from the crime scene police said.
The case had frustrated law enforcement, family and friends of the victim and the public. Despite the tremendous amount of resources allocated to the investigation progress appeared elusive at times.
Persistence finally paid off.
On Thursday, six months to the day that Karina was senselessly murdered, detectives visited the home of Lewis on Essex Street in East New York where he lives with his family including his mother and two sisters.
He voluntarily gave his DNA through a cheek swab. Within two days they came back with a match from the medical examiner’s lab.
On Saturday police returned and asked Lewis to step outside were he was promptly arrested.
“This is a very good day for justice in New York City, ” NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said in his opening remarks at Sunday’s press conference at the 106th Pct. announcing the high-profile arrest.
“After the extensive six month investigation during which over two hundred and fifty leads were received from the public and over seven hundred investigative reports were prepared, numerous DNA file searched, detectives were able to identify Lewis as a suspect in this case,” Boyce said providing details of the case.
Chanel Lewis being escorted from the 107 Pct. to Queens Criminal Court on Sunday. Lewis was arrested after the medical examiner’s lab matched DNA evidence from the crime scene to the suspect. He was charged with second-degree murder and has been remanded without bail. Lewis attended special education school throughout his life.
During his interview with detectives Lewis made, “detailed incriminating statements and admissions,” Boyce said.
Police were able to determine that no one came out of the park on the Howard Beach side, which lead the investigation to East New York side in Brooklyn and the bike path area that runs along the Belt Parkway near where Lewis received the summonses.
During a “deep dive” of intelligence gathering police discovered a 911 call from May - more than three months before the murder - made from an area resident of a “suspicious person” in the area.
From that call the police were able to develop a profile over the last ten days. Although Lewis has no prior arrests he did have three summonses in 2013, NYPD Lt. John Russo, who lives in Howard Beach, tracked down the summonses which authorities said was key in helping to identify Lewis.
At the time of the August incident police ran the recovered DNA through a national FBI database as well as a local state database of offenders. The DNA did not match any DNA on file.
The state began collecting DNA for offenders in 1998 and this only proves the killer may have been in jail prior to '98 or he was never arrested for a crime for which a DNA sample is required.
Police had previously stated that three separate DNA profiles were found all from the same person, an unidentified male. Touch DNA - from contact with hands or body such as sweat or skin cells - was recovered on the victim’s cell phone which was found away from the body. The DNA was also recovered on her back, behind her ear, and under Vetrano’s fingernails.
“Karina helped us identify this person,” Chief Detective Boyce said.
“She had the DNA under her nails she had touch DNA on her back and there was more DNA on the cell phone. Three instances, that’s how we were able to bring the profile up and that’s how we made the link,” he said.
On Sunday Chief Boyce singled out Lt. Russo as a “key player” in helping to identify Chanel Lewis as the prime suspect, he also highlighted the crime scene personnel who worked in the intense summer heat to recover the evidence used to catch the suspect.
Early in the investigation police were pretty convinced it was a random crime, they had no evidence she was being stalked or she was killed by someone who knew her.
On Saturday they reaffirmed that stating that the incident, “appeared to be a chance encounter.”
According to law enforcement sources Lewis used the park often. The day of the murder he was going to get something to eat when he encountered the jogger he told police.
Shortly after 5:46pm Karina Vetrano entered Spring Creek Park at the corner of 83rd St. & 164th Avenue less than a block away from her family home to go for a jog She stepped over the low guardrail, slipped past the chain link fence and though the invasive weeds as she and her father had done countless times before.
There she jogged along an eight foot wide dirt road that snakes around the two hundred plus acre natural area park managed by the National Park Service. Much of the narrow road is surrounded on both sides by an impenetrable wall of invasive phragmites, weeds that grow greater than eleven feet high and provided cover and an opportunity for the murder.
Vetrano had been listening to music and texting a friend during the run but at some point that stopped Chief Boyce had previously stated.
The victim and the suspect encountered each other along the desolate dirt road.
They approached in opposite directions amidst the maze-like condition of the park where she allegedly scared him the suspect told police.
Her lifeless body was found less than a half a mile away from where she entered the park along off the dirt road surrounded on both sides by a solid wall of eight feet high invasive phragmites.
Bright orange evidence marker cones at the crime scene in August.
The victim’s father and police found her body facedown in weeds about 15 feet off the desolate path.
She was strangled, beaten and partly nude. Her teeth were knocked out and had bruises consistent with being dragged through the weeds. She put up a fight.
Lewis was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court and charged with second-degree murder. He was remanded without bail.
His next court date is February 21st.
Lewis attended special education school throughout his life according to police sources. On Sunday Chief Boyce declined talk about, "where he is socially."
After the suspect’s arrest Karina’s parents spoke with reporters in front of their home.
“I’m at a lose for words," the victim’s father, retired fiire fighter Philip Vetrano said.
”We had hoped to get to this point one day, we didn’t know when it was going to happen, it just happened very quickly. We can’t even respond to how we feel. We know yet,” he said.
“Police did an excellent job, they solved this through good old hard investigative work,” Mr. Vetrano said.
Phragmites at the crime scene growing back aggressively less than two weeks after it had been cleared.
I’m not going to say it’s a good day but we can move forward now,” he said.
Both parents praised the diligent police work that lead to the arrest of Lewis.
“We love our daughter so very very deeply,” said Cathy Vetrano.
“Our sorrow is so endlessly painful that hearing the news is not what I expected, there is no happiness but we are grateful to the New York City Police Department,” who she credited as working endlessly and tirelessly to help bring her daughter’s killer to justice.
“We would stop at nothing to find the savage that did this to her,” she said.
“Thinking about it logically, its was impossible for someone to follow her in there. It had to be a random ‘wrong place at the wrong time.’ She was unlucky that day,” the victim's father said after the suspect's arrest, commenting on the random nature of his daughter's meeting with the suspect that fateful summer day.
“The demon must get his justice and we will see to it,” Mrs. Vetrano said.
Her husband agreed.
The family once again called for the state to allow familial DNA testing which could create partial matches from the relatives of criminals and help solve crimes by broadening the scope of potential suspects who’s DNA are not in Federal or state databases.
On Thursday, the six-month anniversary of the murder, Mr. & Mrs. Vetrano and friends gathered at corner of 83rd St. & 164th Avenue 83rd Street the location where their daughter entered the park and spoke out in support of familial DNA testing.
Vetrano’s family and the NYPD have used the case to push the state to allow the testing.
In August a track and multi terrain loader owned by the National Park Service was brought in to help clear large tracks of invasive species to reduce fire danger. The vehicle is dwarfed by the massive phragmites which grow up to twelve feet high in the park.
The vehicle is equipped with a masticator, a large piece of equipment designed to mow and shred brush. Mastication - mechanical brush mowing - is a temporary and cost effective method of cutting down large expanses of grasses.
A spokeswoman for Gateway National Recreation area has pointed out that simply mowing the weeds wasn’t a viable option for eradication.
“It grows back very quickly and stronger and becomes more dense after mowing.”
The roots need to be removed.
The roots need to be removed.
The official National Park Service Spring Creek Park sign is obscured from the street by the invasive Porcelainberry. Non of the green pictured here should be in the park. The majority of the 200 acre park is filled with invasive plants due to more than a half a century of "deferred maintenance."
Karina Vetrano entered Spring Creek Park at the corner of 83rd St. & 164th Avenue, less than a block away from her family home. Her lifeless body was found less than a half a mile away along a dirt service road surrounded by a solid wall of eight feet high invasive phragmites. Police say she was brutally attacked and killed by Chanel Lewis of East New York who accessed the park from Brooklyn side of the Belt Park way. He visited the park frequently according to police sources. (Graph: NYC Park Advocates)
(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.
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