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Queens Chronicle

Unlikely friendship rooted in tragedy

Billionaire and parents of Karina Vetrano shared the loss of a child

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2019 10:30 am

Financier Robert Agostinelli was vacationing in Sardinia, off the coast of Italy, in August 2016 when he spotted a story in the online version of the New York Post.

A young woman who’d gone jogging near her home in Queens had been found murdered and sexually assaulted in the weeds near her home.

It is hard to imagine how Agostinelli — owner of a private equity firm based in London, personally worth an estimated $1 billion and listed by Forbes magazine as the 416th richest man in the world — could be farther away from Howard Beach at that moment.

But the news of Karina Vetrano’s horrible death struck a dreadful chord in him, something deep and familiar.

Agostinelli had lost his 16-year-old son in a mountain-climbing accident eight years earlier.

“When I saw the parents’ picture, I saw in their faces all the things that had happened to me,” he said.

“At first, I wasn’t going to intrude, but then I just sensed that I could,” said Agostinelli.

In the days following the murder, Karina’s friends were all over Facebook talking about her, trying to comfort each other. Agostinelli contacted one of them online.

“I told her if there’s anything I can do, I’m here — I lost a son,” he said.

The family friend contacted him and said they were trying to get up a reward fund to find her killer. Agostinelli made what he calls “a major contribution.”

Phil and Cathie Vetrano, Karina’s parents, invited the financier to a family Sunday dinner a week later.

“We had no one to talk to,” said Phil. “He saved our lives.”

“I sensed I belonged there,” Agostinelli said of that night. “The angels brought us together. I truly believe that.”

“There’s no other way,” said Vetrano, a retired firefighter. “He was introduced to his first wife by Jackie Onassis. We do not travel in the same circles.”

The friendship grew over dinners together in Manhattan. Agostinelli flew Cathie Vetrano to London for a week for counseling with a favored priest.

Phil and Cathie met Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump while staying at his home in Palm Beach last New Year’s Eve.

They were together again last weekend jogging around the track at Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood at the Walk for Karina, the third annual fundraiser there for the scholarship in her name.

Naturally, Agostinelli had contributed to the walk in the years before, but this was the first time he had walked himself in it.

“He’s never in New York,” said Vetrano.

“The death of a child irrevocably changes your approach to life,” said Agostinelli. “The abyss is big. It’s a hole that never closes.”

But he is sensing that Phil and Cathie are different now than when they first met.

“The trial was a big thing for them to get through,” he said. “They are cresting the other way.”

The day after the walk, the financier took Phil and Cathie to Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium, something they could not have thought about doing earlier.

“The idea now is to get them looking and thinking ahead,” Agostinelli said. “They were stuck in backward for a long time.”

“Funny, I don’t think of him as a billionaire,” Vetrano said. “I’m probably one of the few people on the planet he can be himself with.

“We’re both second-generation Italian. We have that connection.

“His father was a fireman who owned a gas station where he grew up in Rochester. His mother is just like my mother.

“We treat each other as equals.”

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