The NYPD on Wednesday released a sketch of a man seen leaving Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach, Queens, about the time jogger Karina Vetrano was killed last month.
The man in the sketch is not a suspect in the Aug. 2 homicide and is being sought because he may be able to provide information about what he may have seen in the park about the time police think Vetrano was killed, a high-ranking official said Wednesday.
Vetrano, 30, had left her Howard Beach home about 5:30 p.m. and went for a run alone in the park. After she didn’t return home her family contacted police. Vetrano was found dead about 10:40 p.m. and investigators said she had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
The sketch is the first significant public development in the case at a time when police are using additional DNA testing in a search for partial matches with a suspect.
The sketch was based on the recollections of a worker at the north end of the park who said he was startled by the appearance of the unknown man as he left the park along a jogging trail near the Belt Parkway, an NYPD official said.
“A worker in the area said he spotted a guy,” the official said. The worker was surprised to see the man and for a moment thought he was going to be mugged, the official said.
Wednesday, NYPD Chief of detectives Robert Boyce stressed that the man in the sketch was not a suspect or a person of interest. But Boyce noted the person was shown wearing a dark wool hat, something he said was “unusual” for a warm August day.
“It’s very important,” Vetrano’s father Philip Vetrano said of the sketch Wednesday in a telephone interview. He plans to distribute the drawing Thursday around Howard Beach.
“We have to speak to this person,” Boyce emphasized.
A police source said officials received calls after the sketch appeared but a number of people mentioned were eliminated as being of interest.
The homicide investigation has no suspects, despite the samples of “extraneous” or unidentified DNA retrieved from the victims body. The DNA has not matched any profiles in state and national databases, Boyce said.
In an effort to expand DNA searches, police are awaiting the result of “familial” DNA comparisons in an attempt to find out if perhaps partial matches can be found with similar known genetic profiles of relatives of a possible suspect, said a high-ranking investigator. Experts note this kind of genetic law-enforcement searching led in 2010 to the arrest of Lonnie David Franklin Jr., the so called “Grim Sleeper” — so named because of the 13 year gap in the killing of several women in California.
Franklin was convicted earlier this year of murder and was sentenced last month to be executed, court records show.
With Matthew Chayes