Karina Vetrano, 30, of Queens, left her home for a jog around 5 p.m. Tuesday. When she failed to return, family members reported her missing and started searching for her.
Vetrano's body was found around 9 p.m. by her father about 14 blocks from her home, in the marshes of Spring Creek Park, off 161st Avenue and 78th Street. She was about 15 feet off the trail.
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The medical examiner's office performed an autopsy Wednesday and ruled her death a homicide, saying she was strangled.
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NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said her clothes were in disarray, indicating a possible sexual assault. Police were still searching Wednesday for her assailant.
"A horrific incident, the apparent rape and murder of a young woman jogger," he said. "If I understand correctly, during the search for her, when she did not come home, her father actually found her, so my heart goes out to him."
Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said it is unclear if the attack was random or by someone known to the victim.
"Right now, we are investigating anyone who uses this park," he said. "There is a lot of digital evidence, home video, cameras that point at the street. We are collecting that as well. At 5:46 p.m., she ran past one of the homes there."
VIDEO: Jogger's body found at Howard Beach
Vetrano had been listening to music and texted a friend during the run. Later, her father repeatedly tried to call her cell phone, which was recovered along the path.
She typically ran the path with her father, who was not with her because of an injury. He had asked her not to go, police said, warning her it might not be safe without him, but she went anyway.
Boyce said police found a pinging on the phone somewhere in the brush off the path, and her father walked police through the marsh to show them where she normally ran. He found the body face down, with detectives. The jogging path is also used by ATVs and firetrucks putting out brush fires, and neighbors and others outside the community use it for running or other sports.
"There was nothing bad you could say about her," family friend Joseph DiPierro said. "She was a sweetheart. She lit up the room when she walked in. She was a beautiful girl."
Both Vetrano and her father, a retired firefighter, attended Archbishop Malloy High School in Queens. On Wednesday, the almuni group asked for prayers for the family:
Please join us in prayer for the repose of the soul of Karina Vetrano, Class of 2004. See information below. pic.twitter.com/v1ATEmYYKJ— Molloy Alumni (@StannerAlumni) August 3, 2016
The murder left area residents shaken.
"Parents are scared to send their kids outside now because of this," neighbor Henny Berkovits said.
A vigil was held for Vetrano at the restaurant where she worked. Hundreds of people showed up.
"It's a terrible tragedy. I just don't know what to say. I go bike riding on that path every day," said Marylou Dazzo, a resident.
"I hope they catch the animal that did that in our own backyard. Our neighborhood is tight. The community will come together right now," said Scott "DJ Skribble" Ialacci, a family friend.
Stay with abc7NY for the latest on this developing story.