A park ranger’s vehicle sits at a roadblock near the entrance of Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in Moran, Wyo., on Sept. 19. (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
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.