NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — City officials on Thursday were asking for the public’s help in finding the person responsible for killing a 30-year-old jogger in Queens.
A $10,000 reward is now being offered for information leading to an arrest in the death of Karina Vetrano, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.
As CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported, police seem to be stumped on finding the person – and they believe the community is in danger.
“We believe there’s a severe community threat, as you know,” Boyce said. “Right now, we think it’s random, so we don’t think it’s anybody in her life that’s created this.”
Police said they are desperate for tips from the public. They say they’ve only received three calls to their tip line, none of which have provided much information.
“They’re not very informative and they’re all anonymous, so we’re asking anybody who sees anything here — anything unusual in this community whatever — they have to call the Crime Stopper number please,” Boyce said.
Vetrano’s body was discovered on Tuesday in the grassy area around 161st Avenue and 78th Street in Howard Beach, Boyce said.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, investigators remained at the crime scene throughout the day Thursday, going through a painstaking methodical slog through acres of undergrowth and tall grass. And nightfall did not mean rest for the NYPD.
The overgrown marshland is federal property near the Belt Parkway.
“We plan to chop down just about every weed in that location till we’re satisfied that we’ve got all the evidence,” Boyce said. “This is a remote area. A young lady was running – still daylight – so hoping somebody saw something going into the park.”
Large equipment was brought in to cut back the tall grass, and teams were deployed with rakes to search through the weeds. Even the FBI was called in to provide special equipment – a city official said drones have been deployed.
Dozens of detectives also fanned across Howard Beach for answers Thursday, interviewing landscapers and home improvement workers.
“They were just asking us what time we showed up and, ‘Were you working Tuesday?’” said carpenter Tommy Rittenhouse. “They want this guy. Whoever it is, I hope they get him.”
Vetrano’s devastated father, Philip, returned to the crime scene Thursday morning, speaking to investigators who are working to find his daughter’s killer, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
It was Vetrano’s father, a retired firefighter, who discovered her body face down in the grassy area off an unpaved trail they would typically run together in the Spring Creek federal park land near the Belt Parkway.
An avid runner, Vetrano left her home around 5 p.m. Tuesday for a jog. Police said she usually went with her father, but this time, an injury kept him home. He got concerned when she didn’t answer his calls.
“At some point after that, her father began to get worried, where she was, she didn’t return home,” Boyce said Wednesday. “He called a police chief who lives nearby who then called 911.”
Vetrano’s father helped police search Tuesday night and pings from her cell phone led them to a marshy area about 15 feet away from the running path.
“The father then went into the woods and then found the body with our detectives right after him,” Boyce said. “We found her face down in the ground.”
Police said Vetrano was strangled to death and possibly sexually assaulted. She was face down with her teeth broken, scrapes on her legs and her sports bra and shorts pulled down, sources said.
Police sources also said one of her hands was clutching grass, indicating she may have been dragged, and that a single sneaker and her headphones were missing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the case “a real tragedy.”
“We really need the public’s help on this one,” he said. “All of us have to help this family and anyone who knows something needs to call it into police right away.”
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-32nd) emphasized that the family wants the case to be solved as soon as possible.
”The mother and father are just visibly shaken,” Ulrich said. “They want closure. They want justice. They want to be able to bury their daughter with dignity.”
David Console lives just feet away from the NYPD’s Mobile Command Center, where dozens of officers have gathered to search for evidence. He called the scene “surreal.”
“My heart goes out to the family,” he said. “No parent should have to bury a child, especially that way.”
The crime has left others in this tight-knit community devastated.
“I don’t know if it was somebody from the neighborhood, or a drug addict, or somebody outside the neighborhood. We’re just really very scared and we hope justice will be done for the family,” said resident Leslie Udell.
“It’s terrible. It’s disgusting,” said resident Robert Kerr. “I feel so bad for the family.”
“It’s a terrible tragedy,” said resident Mary Lou Dazzo. “It’s frightening because I go bike riding every day right on that path.”
CBS2 was told detectives were questioning everyone who knew her, including an ex-boyfriend from Queens, but were leaning towards Vetrano being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Police late Thursday were also combing Vetrano’s social media accounts and activities and her cellphone records, and were investigating sex offenders in Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County.
Sources said so far, they have not found a motive of someone wanting her dead or following her onto the trail.
Meanwhile, investigators have put up reward posters in the neighborhood, hoping for any tips that could lead to a suspect.
There was also a warning from residents for Vetrano’s killer, 1010 WINS’ John Montone reported.
“Whoever did this, I hope they get caught,” one resident said. “And I’m going to say this: Do not let the people of this neighborhood catch you.”
Police have been actively driving a van through the neighborhood with the Crime Stoppers tip line number.
In the neighborhood, residents have wrapped street poles in white to memorialize the victim. One man tucked flowers into one of the reward fliers found on almost every corner.
Vetrano worked at a local catering hall and as a speech pathologist, earning a master’s degree from Saint John’s University last May. Friends said she was widely traveled and well-educated.
Sources said investigators are still hoping to find DNA evidence on Vetrano’s body that could lead to a suspect.
“This woman put up a ferocious fight, right to the end, so she was beaten quite severely, which would suggest that she put up a big fight,” Boyce said.
Meanwhile, the Howard Beach community remained overwhelmed, still trying to cope with the unthinkable crime.
“A murder like this that right now is unsolved — it’s something very scary, and I think people should take precaution in this community,” Councilman Ulrich said.
Funeral services for Vetrano will be held at noon Saturday at St. Helen Church. At 157-10 83rd St. in Queens.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782), visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.