PRINCETON, Mass. — On a sunny Sunday afternoon in August of 2016, Vanessa Marcotte left her mother’s house in Princeton, Massachusetts to go for a jog.
She worked as an account manager for Google in New York City, but was back home visiting her family for the weekend in Massachusetts. She was set to take a bus back to the city later that afternoon.
She missed the bus. And when she didn’t come home for a few hours, her family called police.
Police found Vanessa’s body in the woods less than a half-mile from her mother’s house. She was naked and burned and had apparently been sexually assaulted and strangled.
The random murder of a young woman out for a jog rocked the quiet, suburban community in Worcester County and captured national headlines – partly because of its similarity to a similar murder in Queens, New York just a week before.
But Marcotte’s murder has resonated with women across the country in the year since it happened and has led to a foundation in her name.
“More than 600 women are assaulted each day. We need to fight back. We need to step up,” the foundation’s website reads. “We need to advocate for a world where women are safe and free to live boldly.”
The foundation has hosted the Vanessa Marcotte 5K in her honor and through it raised over $95,000 to help support its cause.
A list of donors to the foundation includes Google and Vistaprint – both companies where Vanessa worked.
After she was found dead in Princeton, Massachusetts State Police started a 24-hour tip line to find any clues that would lead them to Vanessa’s killer.
Police say Vanessa fought back against her killer and showed extensive defensive wounds on her body.
FBI profilers proposed theories about who may have attacked her and why, while investigators built a DNA profile of the killer.
A newer DNA testing technique being used in law enforcement involves using a DNA profile to create an image of a person. Coupling that image with a dark-colored SUV reportedly parked in the area at the time of the murder, police were able to track down a suspect.
Angelo Colon-Ortiz, 31, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and battery, before eventually being charged with murder in the summer of 2017.
Colon-Ortiz, a Puerto Rican-native living in Worcester, matched the description police created based on the DNA profile they built. An officer patrolling the area noticed his car was similar to the one sought, wrote down his license plate and followed him to his home.
Colon-Ortiz provided a DNA sample to police, which they say matched what was found on Vanessa's body.
Police say the murder was a random act and say witnesses reported seeing the dark-colored SUV following Vanessa while she ran.
It’s the fear instilled in women by attacks like this that motived Vanessa’s friend Ashley McNiff to help launch the Marcotte Foundation and to run the Boston Marathon in her honor.
McNiff said she wanted to run in defiance of the danger women face when they go out alone.
“Ultimately, we want Vanessa to be remembered for the quality of her life, the strength of her character and the goodness within her heart,” The Foundation’s website states. “Her death compels us to fight against the violence that took her from us.”
You can donate to the foundation here: https://www.vanessatmarcottefoundation.org/donate/
Cox Media Group