NEW YORK >> It was part of Karina Vetrano's routine to leave her home in Howard Beach, Queens, and go for a run along an expanse of undeveloped wetlands on the northern end of Jamaica Bay. She usually ran with her father, a retired firefighter, who had recently injured his back.
On Tuesday evening, Vetrano, 30, left by herself, the authorities said, even though her father did not want her to go alone.
She exchanged text messages with a friend along the way, but suddenly stopped, the authorities said. Her father repeatedly called her cell phone, but she did not pick up. Almost two hours went by, and she did not return.
"That's when he got worried," Robert K. Boyce, the New York Police Department's chief of detectives, said of her father, Philip Vetrano.
Philip Vetrano reached a neighbor who is an official in the Police Department. Officers arrived shortly before 7 p.m. and began searching for her in the marshland just blocks from her home, her father also joining them.
Several hours later, the police and Vetrano found her body facedown. She was about 15 feet from a trail in a marsh, the authorities said. Investigators were waiting the results of an autopsy, but there were signs, police officials said, that Karina Vetrano may have been strangled and sexually assaulted.
"Imagine if your own daughter turned up in this kind of situation," Bob Parisi, her uncle, said, distraught outside the family's home. Parisi said some of his niece's clothing might have been missing.
At a news conference near the scene, Boyce told reporters that investigators were reviewing surveillance camera footage as well as the text messages Vetrano sent to a friend while jogging, since her phone was recovered in the park. He said investigators did not have any leads on suspects or a motive for the attack.
"We have surveillance of her running past a home at 5:46 p.m.," Boyce said. "We have a lot of forensic evidence as well."
Karina Vetrano was a prolific photographer on Instagram, with several thousand followers, sharing pictures from her recent travels to France and Monaco, lounging poolside on Long Island and embracing a bride and groom at a wedding. She also worked for Central, a nightspot in Astoria, Queens.
"Last night, we lost a dear friend," the bar and lounge posted on its Instagram account. "Karina was an amazing person; she will forever be in our hearts."
Sammy Celun, who was kayaking along the shore on Wednesday, described Vetrano as a "popular, sweet girl," adding that "everybody knew her."
The area where Vetrano was found is a sprawling stretch of local and federal park space with mostly marshes, hemmed in by roadways and houses.
The edges of the park still teemed with joggers, cyclists and dog walkers on Wednesday afternoon. Inside, striped bass fisherman stood in the surf up to their armpits, and on the sandy beaches, volunteers cleaned up debris left behind from religious ceremonies, including dozens of coconuts, chicken carcasses and the head of a goat. The park mostly serves as a gathering place for birds, like egrets, red-winged blackbirds and a bald eagle.
"Not too many people in there," said Don Riepe, a retired park ranger who now leads the cleanup crew as director at the American Littoral Society's Northeast chapter.
But Stavroula Kokkoros, who has lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years, said that Hurricane Sandy in 2012 knocked down a chain-link perimeter fence, and that since then there had been an influx of people going into the park. "Maybe now something will happen," she said. "This is not supposed to happen."
Linda Catapano has lived for 15 years in a house across the street from what some in the neighborhood call "the weeds." She said she would occasionally see Vetrano run by, reminding her of her own daughter, who likes to jog at dawn or dusk.
Catapano said that on Tuesday evening she saw a man, who she believed was Philip Vetrano, with the police heading into the marsh. She was surprised when she found out what had happened since she had been home all evening and did not hear anything happening outside.
"You think dogs should have been barking. Everybody jogs. Everybody walks their dogs," she said. "We like to think we're in a safe world."