An NYPD lieutenant who helped make an arrest in the six-month-long investigation into the murder of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano was honored by his hometown residents in Middle Village on Thursday night.
Lieutenant John Russo, who grew up in the Maspeth and Middle Village areas and now lives in Howard Beach, received the Juniper Park Civic Association’s (JPCA) hero award during the March 16 session at Our Lady of Hope School.
Russo used his intuition to remember a person he saw lurking around Spring Creek Park months before Vetrano’s body was found at the location on Aug. 2, 2016.
After scouring records, Russo found a name connected to the summons handed out to the suspicious character, Chanel Lewis, 20, of East New York, Brooklyn. Lewis was taken into custody in February, and a DNA sample matched the evidence found on Vetrano’s body and at the crime scene.
Lewis was charged with Vetrano’s murder on Feb. 6.
“Here’s a guy, a great detective, did his homework, had a hunch and it paid off,” said JPCA President Robert Holden in presenting Russo with the group’s newly created Hero Award. “This will be a hero award that we’re going to give in your honor every year to an outstanding officer in the city of New York.”
Russo thanked the communities for their support in not only providing hundreds of tips in the Vetrano case, but for helping the police department on many cases by having a working relationship with the NYPD and the officers.
“I was born in Maspeth; I spent the first half of my life hanging out in Maspeth; and then as a teen I spent most of my teenage years in Juniper Park,” Russo told attendees. “So I have a strong connection to this neighborhood. I moved to Howard Beach recently, and now, like this community, I’m a member of that community.”
Deputy Inspector Mark Wachter, commanding officer of the 104th Precinct which covers Maspeth and Middle Village, praised Russo and his tireless work ethic which led to the big break in the Vetrano case.
“This is a true example of one small piece of evidence [that] leads to an arrest,” Wachter said. “Out of probably millions and millions of things that these detectives looked at, one thing led to the arrest of the suspect. It’s a testament to the work of the work the Detective Bureau does every day.”