Family, friends and neighbors of murdered Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano joined together on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of her death by marching in her footsteps.
About 100 people, including Vetrano’s parents, Phil and Cathie Vetrano, walked through the streets of Howard Beach as the sun set on the city, starting at 165th Avenue and 85th Street before making their way to St. Helen’s Church on 83rd Street.
“This community has stood by us in a magnificent way and everyone should use this as an example on how people need to be together. . .” Cathie Vetrano said.
Carrying purple and white balloons, the group was led by two mounted officers with the United States Park Police as they walked alongside “the weeds” of Spring Creek Park, where the 30-year-old’s body was found after she had gone for a run on Aug. 2, 2016. Police have charged Chanel Lewis, 20, of Brooklyn, in Vetrano’s death.
When asked how her days are since her daughter’s death, Cathie Vetrano said, “It’s just too painful.”
“This neighborhood has been rocked with fear, rocked with not knowing what’s going to happen next . . . this is the moment of peace we needed,” Phil Vetrano said.
The church bells of St. Helen’s rang as the growing crowd of about 200 filed into the church. The group then stood for a moment of silence for Vetrano.
“United together in faith and prayer and community, we can overcome anything,” said the Rev. Francis Colamaria before inviting Vetrano’s parents up to speak.
Cathie Vetrano said although it was “very difficult” to speak, she wanted to “express her gratitude” for all that the Howard Beach community has done for her family.
“We are inconsolable but through our family and friends and all the people we don’t even know, you have kept us standing,” she said. ”I never even realized how great this community is. And I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for every little thing, every prayer.”
The grieving mother said she found a book Wednesday morning that Vetrano had given her with highlighted passages about things that were important to her. She read aloud a quote about extending kindness.
“I feel this was her message for me to give to all of you,” Cathie Vetrano said.
The mourners inside the church gave the Vetranos a standing ovation. Many wore white bracelets that said “Justice for Karina Vetrano” in purple writing.
A version of “Over the Rainbow” played as the group released the purple and white balloons into the sky. Cathie Vetrano solemnly kissed a white balloon and released it, watching as it floated up to join the others.