The local children’s hospital pediatrician who police say was murdered and then burned by a Bucks County exterminator was laid to rest on Saturday.
A private service and burial were held in the morning for Melissa Ketunuti, 35. Ketunuti was found dead inside the basement of her Center City home on January 21. Police say she was on fire with ropes around her neck, hands and feet when her body was discovered.
An autopsy confirmed Ketunuti died from strangulation. An investigation led police to Jason Smith, 36, an exterminator from Levittown. Police say when Smith showed up to service Ketunuti’s home for a rodent problem, the two had an argument in the basement that went “horribly wrong.”
A police source told NBC10 Smith admitted he “just snapped” and confessed to striking her and knocking her to the ground. Police say he strangled her with a rope and at some point tied her arms and feet behind her back.
Smith told investigators he panicked and tried to hide the evidence by burning her body with a liquid accelerant, according to a police source.
Smith was arrested and taken into custody on January 23 at his Levittown home that he shares with his girlfriend and small child. He is charged with murder, abuse of a corpse, risking arson and risking a catastrophe.
Ketunuti was laid to rest during a private service in the Philadelphia area on Saturday. Friends and family gathered at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Saturday afternoon to celebrate her life. Ketunuti was a native of Thailand who lived alone. CHOP stated the following about her after her death:
The entire community of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, a second year infectious diseases fellow and researcher at CHOP. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time.
“Melissa was a warm, caring, earnest, bright young woman with her whole future ahead of her,” said Paul Offit, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases. “But more than that, she was admired, respected and loved by those with whom she worked here at CHOP. Her death will have a profound impact on those who worked with her and we will all miss her deeply.”
Dr. Ketunuti had been at CHOP for five years, having first served as a resident in the Department of Pediatrics.