RIVERBANK — Investigators continued to pursue leads in the slayings of a Modesto couple Tuesday, while friends and family gathered in Riverbank to honor them at the husband's karate school.
The bodies of Scott and Janet Pettit, both 59, were found by firefighters battling a blaze in the bedroom of their north Modesto home early Thursday morning. Police announced the next day that their deaths were homicides.
To protect the integrity of the investigation, homicide Sgt. Alex Bettis would not release how the couple were killed, but said Tuesday that their deaths were not a result of the fire. The bodies of two of the couple's dogs that also were found dead in the home will be examined today to determine how they died. Investigators will not say if they have identified any suspects.
At Riverbank Black Belt Academy on Santa Fe, dozens of friends, students, parents, former students and community members gathered to remember Scott Pettit and share stories Tuesday evening.
"The purpose of tonight is to heal," friend Stephen Wofford told the dozens of people who attended. "Talk a little, maybe shed a few tears not all tears are bad maybe laugh a little, too."
People did all of that.
Charrisa Alves fought through tears as she talked about the impact Scott Pettit had on her 11-year-old daughter, Savanna.
"She was really shy," Alves said, holding on tightly to Savanna. "He helped her a lot and brought her out of her shell. Girls don't pick on her at school anymore. He was a wonderful man."
He instilled confidence in hundreds of children and demanded discipline not just in karate, but in all aspects of their lives, she said.
Pettit's influence on Savanna was clear as soon as the child began to speak of him. "He was a really good teacher," she said, standing straight, speaking clearly and making eye contact. "He was very good at motivating me."
Former student Viencient Youngs said when his grades started slipping, Scott Pettit had him do homework in his office every day before karate practice. And his grades improved.
"You could go to him not just for karate but for anything, and he'd tell you his best advice and judgment on it," Youngs said. "He was more than just a karate instructor, he was more of a father figure to everyone and pretty much a father figure to the town of Riverbank."
Riverbank Black Belt Academy for a decade has been a fun, safe place for students to hang out on the weekend, and many are left wondering what will become of it.
Memorial services for Janet Pettit will be organized in the coming days by members of the Vascular Access Certification Corporation, of which she was board president, and the Association of Vascular Access, of which she was a member.
A private funeral for the Pettits will be held today in Riverbank.