On Aug. 2, Karina Vetrano went for a run near her Howard Beach home. Her body was found a few hours later in a marshy area, strangled. Police said she had been sexually assaulted.
In the days and weeks that followed, the community and Vetrano’s family were left reeling, police received hundreds of tips, and the reward money raised topped $275,000.
More than six months later, on Feb. 5, police arrested Chanel Lewis; the 20-year-old, with no criminal priors, was charged with second-degree murder, the NYPD said, in connection with Vetrano's death. He will be held without bail and is expected in court on Feb. 21.
Here's what we know about Lewis and how the investigation led to his arrest.
In statements to police, Chanel Lewis confessed to committing Vetrano's murder, a source said. His DNA, which he gave voluntarily to police, was matched to samples recovered from Vetrano’s neck, under her fingernails and on her cellphone.
Lewis became a possible suspect the first week of February when Lt. John Russo, who works for Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, recalled a complaint from May 2016. Howard Beach residents had said Lewis was seen in the back yards of some homes. Police didn’t observe any crime, but took down Lewis’ name and address, officials said.
When investigators located the patrol report in February, they interviewed Lewis at his Essex Street home. During interviews, Lewis described a puddle near where Vetrano’s body was found, which helped convince investigators that he was at the park the same time of Vetrano’s killing, a law enforcement source said.
Lewis told police the alleged attack was impulsive, sparked by problems at home, the source said. He said as he got near Vetrano, he yanked off his ear buds, attacked her and dragged her to the spot where she died, according to the source. Police said Lewis tried to complete a sex act but apparently didn’t.
Lewis is unemployed and lives with his mother, police said. He doesn’t have a criminal record, but police identified three quality-of-life summonses dating back to 2013 that Lewis received around the Howard Beach crime scene.
His family has denied that Lewis is capable of committing the murder.
Vetrano, 30, went for a jog about 5 p.m. on Aug. 2 — a fairly common activity for her, police have said. During her run, investigators said Vetrano had been texting her best friend and that the phone was swabbed for DNA.
When she didn’t return home that night, her family became worried. They began to search for her after she didn’t return phone calls or texts, and discovered her body about four hours later.
She was found face down in a marshy area, about 15 feet from a trail near 161st Avenue and 78th Street in Spring Creek Park.
In the days following, police recovered a DNA sample from Vetrano’s neck, under her fingernails and on her cellphone, but were unable to match it to any known individual.
Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce has said police spoke to several people involved in her personal life, including an ex-boyfriend, who was not a suspect. Investigators also reviewed surveillance video in the area, but didn't find "any video evidence at all to show anybody lingering.”
Police shifted their investigation toward Brooklyn in late August to determine if the attacker could have escaped the park westbound along the Belt Parkway.
On Aug. 18, Vetrano’s father said police were close to catching the killer, appealed to the family of that suspect and urged them to take the reward money raised, according to multiple media reports. But then-Police Commissioner William Bratton said that wasn’t true, and reiterated his appeal to any members of the public for help closing the case.
On Aug. 31, police released a sketch of a possible witness to the murder. Boyce said the individual was not considered a suspect, but hoped he may have more information about the incident. The sketch spurred more tips, but police still do not have a suspect.
On Sept. 12, “Crime Watch Daily With Chris Hansen,” published video surveillance that shows Vetrano running on a street adjacent to the park, but Boyce said the video did not provide any clues about who killed her.
“We’re looking for a break,” Boyce said in an interview with “Crime Watch Daily.” “We need a break in the case.”
On Sept. 21, Boyce said he was optimistic that investigators would find Vetrano's killer. "I think we will make an arrest in the case," he said.
On Sept. 27, Michael Fox, 47, was taken into custody after he was found naked and ranting in the same marshy park where Vetrano was killed. Fox was apparently agitated and incoherent, yelling that “the father did it ... I have nothing to do with it,” according to a police source.
Fox's DNA, however, did not match the samples found on Vetrano's body and belongings, police said in early October.
On Dec. 7, more than four months after Vetrano's death, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown asked the state to approve the use of a new type of DNA analysis that he believes could help solve the case. Brown called on the state to allow the city to use what is known as “familial searching,” a technique that is used in 10 other states, but not New York.
The state had no immediate comment on the letter, which was dated Wednesday, Dec. 7 and made public by Brown the next day.
On Dec. 9, state Sen. Phil Boyle introduced legislation that would authorize the use of the so-called "familial DNA" to assist in solving violent crimes in New York. The senator said he drafted the measure after a phone conversation with Vetrano's father in late November.
On Feb. 4, police said they were questioning a person of interest in connection to Vetrano’s death. The next day, that suspect was named by NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, who said during a news conference that Chanel Lewis, 20, had been arrested. Lewis, who police said was taken into custody in East New York, had been linked to the case by DNA evidence. Lewis was later charged with second-degree murder.
On Feb. 10, the Vetrano family pushed for "familial DNA" analysis during a public meeting with state officials. Although Lewis was arrested without the technique, the family continues to show support for its use in New York.
The reward money
Days after Vetrano was found dead, the NYPD increased its reward offered to $25,000. On Aug. 23, the city’s reward was raised again to $35,000, which includes $10,000 from the mayor’s office.
Vetrano’s family, including her parents Cathy and Phil Vetrano, went one step further and created a GoFundMe Web page, quickly generating contributions.
Just one day after the page was created on Aug. 9, it had surpassed it’s goal of $100,000. And by Oct. 12, the fund had raised more than $283,000 and been shared over 15,000 times on social media.
As of Aug. 23, the family’s reward — originally set at $100,000 — was increased to $200,000. Her family had said on the fundraising page that the extra money raised will be donated to charity.
Following the arrest of Lewis, Phil Vetrano posted on the page, asking people to recommend charities to donate the money to. “I want to thank all of you who have supported us so long,” he wrote. “I would also like all of your input, you all donated and you should have a say.”
On Aug. 16, Vetrano’s friends and family gathered to retrace her steps, in what her father, Phil Vetrano, called on the GoFundMe page “the train of tears.” He said it was the first of many events to honor her life.
“2 weeks ago today started out like any other day. I love you daddy, c u later. You 2 baby have a great day at work,” he wrote. “A few short hrs later my life would forever change.”
Many in the close-knit Howard Beach community knew Vetrano or her parents, and several said her father — a retired firefighter who now does contracting work — had even done work on their homes.
The night after her murder, dozens gathered in the parking lot of the bar where she worked to light candles in her honor.
On Aug. 24, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s office paid for eight surveillance cameras to be put up around the perimeter of the park where Vetrano’s body was found. But cameras could not be put up inside the park, because it is on federal land, a spokeswoman for Katz’s office said.
The NYPD will operate the actual cameras.