Perelman graduate student found dead in home


Police believe strangulation was the cause of Melissa Ketunuti's death




UPDATE, Jan. 22, 12:43 p.m.: Police believe that strangulation was the cause of Ketunuti’s death, Captain James Clark, Commanding Officer of the Homicide Division, said at an 11:15 a.m. press conference. Ketunuti was found with rope around her neck at the crime scene.

When police entered her Naudain Street house, she was not wearing pants, but did have a shirt on. Clark said that Ketunuti had not been dead very long before she was found.

Although police are speaking to Ketunuti’s boyfriend, Clark said he is “not a suspect.” Police are looking for evidence that she might have been followed home yesterday, and they are not sure whether anything has been stolen from her house.

There is a $20,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest.

Melissa Ketunuti, a Perelman School of Medicine graduate student, was found dead in her Center City home on Monday afternoon in what police are treating as a homicide.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department was able to confirm the victim’s name and place of residence. She was set to graduate in 2014.

The body of 34-year-old Ketunuti was discovered in the basement of her townhouse at 1728 Naudain St., face-down on the ground with her arms and legs bound with rope, according to Captain James Clark, Commanding Officer of the Philadelphia Police Homicide Division. Her body had been set on fire and was still burning when firefighters arrived to douse the flames.

Shortly thereafter, she was announced dead at the scene.

A Penn Medicine spokesperson confirmed a woman by the name of Melissa Ketunuti was a graduate student at Penn. She was pursuing her Master of Science degree in clinical epidemiology and was scheduled to graduate in 2014.

Police and firefighters were alerted to the scene at approximately 12:30 p.m. following a 9-1-1 call.

No arrests have been made so far in the case.

The Medical Examiner’s Office is scheduled to perform an autopsy today, according to Clark.

Ketunuti worked as a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. According to Clark, she committed her life to helping children with cancer. A CHOP spokesperson said the organization has no comment at this time.

“It’s definitely an eye opener. It makes you think twice about walking around at night,” neighborhood resident Rob Zaidman said.

According to property records, Ketunuti purchased the house at 1728 Naudain St. in August 2009.

She attended Stanford Medical School and graduated in 2007. Upon graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C. to do her internship in the General Surgery department at Georgetown University Hospital.

She was an avid runner who ran the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon.

Ketunuti was also a world traveler. She visited countries such as Thailand, Namibia and Belgium. She chronicled these travels, along with major life events, in a personal blog that she kept from 2005 to 2008.

In 2008, she moved to Philadelphia to take a residency in pediatrics at CHOP. She wrote on her blog that she made the decision to switch from surgery to pediatrics because, “As sexy as it was to be a life-saving surgeon, I feel much better suited for pediatrics.”

As police investigated the crime scene on Monday evening, a wake was going on next door for the victim.

Check back for updates.

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