Modesto couple dead before fire started, police say

local@modbee.comAugust 16, 2013 

Modesto Regional fire fighters and city of Modesto police gather outside of a home on the 4,000 block of Divan Ct. in north Modesto where two people fell victim to a fire confined to the top floor of the home early Thursday morning (08-08-13).

ELIAS FUNEZ — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

— Investigators said Friday night they believe more than one suspect was involved in a double homicide and fire that left a Modesto couple dead Aug. 8. Investigators believe the fire at the Divan Court home was set to cover the homicide of Scott and Janet Pettit. Police have not released information on how the couple were killed.

"It appears the fire was set in an attempt to cover up the double homicide," Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Ivan Valencia said in a news release. "Two family dogs also perished during the fire. A necropsy (postmortem exam) was completed and the dogs were found to have died from smoke inhalation."

Valencia also said that detectives believe there is more than one suspect involved. He later added by phone, "Just based on the circumstances, detectives believe more than one person was involved. We still have not identified any one person."

In his release, Valencia wrote, "On the night of the fire, emergency personnel received reports of a third person possibly living at the residence. That person has been identified as the Pettits' adult son, who was at work."

Earlier police reports said the son had moved out. "It sounds like it might have been a back-and-forth situation," Valencia clarified to The Bee on Friday night. "On the day of the incident, there was concern that we might find a third body there. We learned he was at work, so we wanted to get that out there."

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 in the morning. Police announced the next day that their deaths were homicides. Police later said friends and family members had been interviewed and were cooperating with the investigation.

Janet Pettit was a neonatal nurse practitioner and clinical nurse at Doctors Medical Center. She also worked as assistant nurse manager in maternal and child health at Kaiser Modesto Medical Center.

Scott Pettit taught martial arts to hundreds of children and adults. He owned Riverbank Black Belt Academy on Santa Fe Street for nearly 10 years and previously had other locations throughout the county. He was Riverbank's citizen of the year in 2007.

Police ask anyone with information regarding this crime to call Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.

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