Gabby Petito, the Long Island woman whose mysterious killing has sparked a manhunt for her fiancé, died from strangulation, the Wyoming coroner who performed her autopsy said Tuesday.
Her death had already been ruled a homicide, but this was the first time Teton County Coroner Brent Blue released any details about the autopsy. He told reporters at a virtual news conference that Petito’s remains, found last month in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, had been outside for about three to four weeks.
Blue said his ruling was the result of a “detailed investigation” that involved forensic pathologists, anthropologists, local law enforcement and the FBI. He would not release any more information about the probe, as the FBI is still investigating who killed Petito. It’s also unclear if the strangulation was manual or with an object.
Petito’s body was located near a remote campground surrounded by woodlands and brush on Sept. 19, just over a week after she was reported missing by her family. The 22-year-old Blue Point native had been on a cross-country trip with her longtime partner, Brian Laundrie, when her family last heard from her in late August.
This police camera video provided by the Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito talking to an officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12.
Laundrie, 23, returned to his Florida home by himself on Sept. 1 and disappeared about two weeks later without helping police find the missing woman. Laundrie has not been charged in her death, but he’s the only person of interest in the case.
He’s also wanted on a charge of bank card fraud for allegedly using another person’s card to spend or withdraw about $1,000. Police have not said whether the card belonged to Petito.
Local law enforcement and the FBI have focused their search for Laundrie on Florida’s huge Carlton Preserve, a nearly 25,000-acre site where he was said to be hiking before his Sept. 14 disappearance.
Attorney Steven Bertolino, who represents the Laundrie family, issued a statement about the coroner’s findings.
“Gabby Petito’s death at such a young age is a tragedy,” he said. “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. At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the pending fraud charge against him.”
Petito’s father and the family’s attorney did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. Petito’s mother told Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA: “His words are garbage. Keep talking.”
During a recent news conference, the family urged Laundrie to surrender — a plea that even his sister has publicly made.
“Come forward and end this horrible mess,” she told ABC News last week.
Laundrie’s father, who has not spoken to the media, joined the search for his son at Carlton Preserve at least once in recent days. Authorities have also investigated unconfirmed sightings of Laundrie in other parts of the country and even in Toronto.
The bizarre case has drawn widespread interest partly because Petito, who had a large following on social media, had been documenting the trip on Instagram and TikTok. The travel-blogging couple began their journey in June with the goal of visiting multiple national parks along the way.
Critics have pointed to the case as an example of “missing white woman syndrome,” with many saying that missing people of color rarely get the same attention. Asked about the constant press coverage in his typically quiet Wyoming community, Blue said it’s been “quite the media circus.”
“Unfortunately, this is one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that these other deaths would not get as much coverage as this one.”
The Petito family recently launched the Gabby Petito Foundation to help finding missing people and assist victims of domestic violence. The foundation’s first official fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday in Patchogue, Long Island.
Investigators have not said if it was domestic violence that led to Petito’s death, but the couple was involved in at least one altercation during their trip.
Police body-cam video captured the moment officers in Utah questioned the pair about the incident, with a visibly distressed Petito telling cops that she had hit Laundrie first. Petito also said Laundrie “grabbed my face” with his nail, which caused an apparent cut to her cheek, the footage shows.
Laundrie, meanwhile, told police he was just defending himself because “she gets really worked up” when upset.
“And when she does she swings, and she had her cellphone in her hand, so I was just trying to push her away,” he said while still sitting in white Ford Transit the couple was using to travel.
Police ultimately decided not to arrest anyone, ruling that the incident stemmed from a mental-health crisis.