The Wyoming medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Gabby Petito said Tuesday that the 22-year-old’s death was caused by strangulation.
Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue made the announcement during a virtual news conference.
“After a detailed investigation by our forensic pathologist, our anthropologist and local law enforcement, with assistance from the FBI, the Teton County Coroner Office is filing the following verdict in the death of Gabrielle Venora Petito. We hereby find the cause and manner of death to be: the cause, death by strangulation, and manner is homicide,” he said.
Blue initially ruled Petito’s manner of death a homicide pending final autopsy results.
He said that law enforcement took DNA samples from Petito’s body and that she was not pregnant.
The time of death was estimated to be three to four weeks before Petito’s body was found, Blue said.
He added that under Wyoming state law, only cause and manner of death are released after an autopsy is conducted, and said that no other information about her death would be released.
Petito’s body was discovered in the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area of Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Grand Teton National Park, on Sept. 19 — eight days after her family reported her missing and nearly three weeks after her 23-year-old fiancé, Brian Laundrie, returned home from a cross-country road trip without her.
Laundrie was called a person of interest by police in North Port, Fla., where he and Petito lived with Laundrie’s parents before embarking on their trip. Laundrie’s parents reported him missing on Sept. 17, four days after they told police he told them he was going for a hike in a nearby nature reserve.
Authorities have been scouring the 24,565-acre Carlton Reserve for Laundrie ever since. There have also been unconfirmed sightings of Laundrie along the Appalachian Trail, in Canada and in Mexico. TV personalities, including Duane Chapman — known as Dog the Bounty Hunter — and longtime “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh, have joined in the search.
Petito’s family has issued public pleas for Laundrie’s parents to cooperate with authorities. Police say the Laundries initially did not share “any helpful details” in the search for Petito.
The FBI executed a search warrant at their home a day after the discovery of Petito’s body.
On Sept. 22, a federal arrest warrant was issued for Laundrie for alleged unauthorized use of a Capital One debit card belonging to Petito.
“While this warrant allows law enforcement to arrest Mr. Laundrie, the FBI and our partners across the country continue to investigate the facts and circumstances of Ms. Petito’s homicide,” Michael Schneider, FBI special agent in charge, said in a statement announcing the warrant. “We urge individuals with knowledge of Mr. Laundrie’s role in this matter or his current whereabouts to contact the FBI.”
In a statement released after the coroner’s findings Tuesday, Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie family’s lawyer, said, “Gabby Petito’s death at such a young age is a tragedy.”
“While Brian Laundrie is currently charged with the unauthorized use of a debit card belonging to Gabby, Brian is only considered a person of interest in relation to Gabby Petito’s demise,” the statement read. “At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the fraud charge pending against him.”
The case has garnered widespread national media attention — as well as criticism of news outlets for not covering similar cases involving people of color. It has also drawn intense interest on social media, with online sleuths scouring the couple’s posts on Instagram for potential clues.
Petito and Laundrie had spent months visiting national parks in their converted 2012 Ford Transit van, documenting the trip on social media.
Petito’s family, who live on Long Island, said they lost contact with her in late August and reported her missing on Sept. 11 — 10 days after Laundrie returned home to Florida in the van without her.
As media coverage of her disappearance intensified, police in Moab, Utah, released body camera footage of officers pulling the young couple’s van over near Arches National Park on Aug. 12 following a report of a “domestic problem” between the pair outside a natural food store.
The footage showed Laundrie with scratches on his face and a visibly distraught Petito wiping away tears while telling one officer that the couple had been fighting and were struggling with “personal issues.”
“I’m sorry,” Petito told the officer. “We’ve just been fighting this morning. Some personal issues.”
After questioning the couple separately for more than an hour, officers concluded that Petito had been the aggressor in the incident, but neither Laundrie nor Petito wanted to press charges.
“I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,” the officers concluded in their report.
They instead decided to separate the couple for the night. Laundrie was taken to a motel and Petito was allowed to stay in the van. The pair reunited soon after and continued on their trip.
But according to audio from a 911 call, a witness told police that he saw Laundrie slap Petito multiple times in the parking lot of the natural food store. The city of Moab has launched an independent investigation into the police department’s handling of the incident, and Moab Police Chief Bret Edge has taken a leave of absence pending results of the probe.
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