August 9, 2013

No suspects in death of Modesto couple; friends express shock

Modesto police announced Friday evening that the deaths of a prominent couple whose bodies were found at their home after a fire were homicides.

Modesto police announced Friday evening that the deaths of a prominent couple whose bodies were found at their home after a fire were homicides.

No one has been arrested, and no suspects have been identified. Police, however, are pursuing several leads, said Sgt. Alex Bettis.

Family members and friends have been interviewed and are cooperating with the investigation.

Because the investigation is ongoing, how the couple were killed is not being released.

Even before learning that the couple's deaths had been ruled homicides, friends were shocked by the tragedy.

They shared stories and told of the accomplishments of Janet and Scott Pettit, who were widely influential and successful in their respective fields.

The couple were found dead inside their north Modesto home after a fire in their bedroom early Thursday.

Multiple neighbors called 911 to report flames and possibly the sound of screams coming from the home in the 4000 block of Divan Court, which is a few blocks northwest of Snyder Avenue and Carver Road.

Investigators won't say if the home showed signs of forced entry. Bettis said the fire was suspicious but that a cause has not been determined. Because of fire damage, the crime scene is complex.

What at first glance appeared to be a terrible accident quickly developed into a police investigation; their deaths were deemed suspicious.

Memorials with flowers, candles and notes were left at the couple's home and at Scott Pettit's martial arts school Friday.

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 and recently earned her Ph.D. as a doctor of nursing practice.

She co-wrote neonatal guidelines for the industry 10 years ago and recently had been appointed to a committee to upgrade those standards.

"She was such an understated, superb professional," said friend and colleague Josie Stone. "She never talked extravagantly about her accomplishments, but she was always willing to share that expertise and did so generously."

In addition to her skill and expertise with the smallest patients, Janet Pettit taught classes all over the country in the specialty of vascular access. She was the president of the board of the Vascular Access Certification Corporation and a member of the Association of Vascular Access.

Hudson Garrett Jr., vice president of the VACC board and Pettit's friend, said "devastated" can't begin to describe how he and many of his colleagues feel.

"She was one of the most brilliant clinicians," he said. "She has a unique ability to talk to any audience in a way that made sense for them. This is not just a loss for us, but any patient that could have been in her care."

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, the same year he started the city's first Relay for Life fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. He held numerous free child-safety classes throughout the years.

Pettit helped run Health and Safety Night at the Riverbank farmers market and was the host of one of the National Night Out locations.

He also was a member of the Bay Area BMW Z group.

Along with the memorial at his studio, condolences were left on Riverbank Black Belt Academy's Facebook page.

One from a representative of a martial arts school in New York reads, "When a teacher passes, he does not cease, rather he ascends to higher lessons within our hearts and memories."

Police ask anyone who may have information regarding criminal activity related to the case to call Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters can text information to Crime Stoppers by sending a text message to 274637. Type TIP704 plus a message.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at or (209)578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.

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