Fresh from a cardiothoracic surgery internship at Georgetown University Hospital five years ago, Melissa Ketunuti moved to Philadelphia. By all accounts, the bright young Stanford University School of Medicine graduate was eager to make a difference.
“I’m now starting a residency in pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (I just couldn’t get enough of internship[s] so I had to do another),” the woman wrote on her blog, saying that she hoped to set down roots in the city.
“The CHOP pediatrics program, aside from being one of the largest in the country (40 something residents per year), is an incredibly supportive program. People are rooting for my success and education, which is a very different vibe than at Georgetown.”
But the 35-year-old’s life was cut tragically short on Monday afternoon when, according to police, someone bound her hands and feet behind her back, strangled her with a rope and set her body on fire in the basement of her home on the 1700 block of Naudain Street in Southwest Center City.
Ketunuti’s dog walker discovered the grisly scene around 12:30 p.m. Police said there were no signs of forced entry into the home, but they are unsure whether Ketunuti knew her attackers.
“We don’t know if she walked in on individuals inside her property,” Capt. James Clark of the Homicide Unit said yesterday. “We don’t know if individuals forced her inside of her property. We don’t know if it’s a known doer or an unknown doer. Right now, we don’t know.”
Ketunuti lived alone. She was in a relationship, but her boyfriend has spoken with detectives and is not a suspect at this time, according to police.
As with any homicide, there is a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of anyone involved in Ketunuti’s slaying.
“You have a young lady, she was  years of age, she had dedicated her whole life to being a doctor and to helping kids with cancer,” Clark said. “And it’s very, very unfortunate that she died this way.”
Motive still unknown
Clark said Ketunuti had visited several locations in Center City on Monday before her death. “We’ve already backtracked two or three of them,” he said.
“So far, we don’t have anyone following her, but I have detectives back out there still looking at some other locations that we know that she possibly was at, looking for video that would possibly show her killing.”
Developer Ori Feibush, who owns a coffehouse on the 1700 block of South Street, said that he was impressed with investigators’ meticulous and thorough roundup of surveillance tape.
“Police were exceptionally diligent and focused on getting a video, not just from our place of business, but from every place of business within a fairly large area around the property there,” he said.
“They had the proper equipment to download video, they were going store-by-store, they had a very clean plan and approach and they were able to secure any and all video surveillance available.”
It is unclear whether robbery is a possibility. “We have detectives back out there now with some people who are familiar with her and familiar with what she has in her house and then we’ll be able to answer that question,” Clark said. “Right now, we don’t know whether anything was taken from the property.”
Five more victims during violent weekend
Ketunuti was one of six homicide victims over the weekend. According to police:
– Anthony Rongione, 44, and 52-year-old Michael Spering were on Friday fatally shot in the head shortly after 5 p.m. inside a home on the 600 block of Fitzgerald Street in South Philadelphia. Investigators believe the incident was a murder-suicide.
– Pablo Valdez, 56, was shot in the head at 8:30 p.m. Friday night during a home invasion on the 200 block of West Wyoming Avenue in Feltonville. Police are looking for two men seen fleeing the house wearing hoodies and masks.
– Tyree Thomas, 25, was shot twice in the chest around 5 a.m. Sunday morning inside a home on the 900 block of South Conestoga Street in Kingsessing.
– Antiquon Greer, 39, was shot twice in the head shortly before 7:45 p.m. Sunday night while sitting inside a car at Carlisle and Ogden streets in Francisville.
– A woman whose identity has not yet been determined was found stabbed to death in a lot on the 3500 block of Ruth Street in Kensington around 5:30 p.m. Monday evening. She was wearing only a shirt. A Medical Examiner’s investigation into her death was underway yesterday.