Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito was strangled to death, a coroner said on Tuesday afternoon following weeks of speculation over the 22-year-old woman’s autopsy.
Petito’s remains were identified on Sept. 21 shortly after her body was found along the border of Grand Teton National Park, 48 kilometres northeast of Jackson, Wyoming. Teton County medical examiners had ruled her death as a homicide but did not make the cause of her death public.
Dr. Brent Blue told reporters Petito was likely strangled between three and four weeks before her body was found. But he declined to say more about the autopsy or the case overall, saying he was prevented by Wyoming law that limits what information coroners can release.
“The remains have been returned to the mortuary here and the mortuary and is dealing with the family at this time,” he said.
“It was quite the media circus and continues to be,” Blue added. “Unfortunately, this is only one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence.”
Petito disappeared after a month-long cross-country trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, across the United States. She was last seen alive on Aug. 26.
Her family reported her missing on Sept. 11, saying Petito was not responding to calls or texts more than a week after her boyfriend had reportedly returned to his family’s home in North Port, Florida, from the trip without her.
Laundrie has been named a ‘person of interest’ in Petito’s case, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest after authorities charged him last month with the unauthorized use of her bank debit card to make withdrawals worth more than $1,000.
Laundrie returned to his home in North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 in the white van the couple had rented for the trip. His parents told police their son had disappeared on Sept. 17, three days after they said they had last seen him.
But Petito’s family insists that Laundrie is not “missing,” and allege he is evading police.
“All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing,” read a statement from the law office of Richard B. Stafford, who is representing Petito’s family.
The search for Petito and Laundrie has generated a media frenzy across much of the world, with thousands of social media users taking to TikTok and Instagram to try to hunt Laundrie down and pore over possible clues.
Meanwhile, authorities and investigative teams are approaching their fourth week in the search Laundrie. Units are currently trekking through a swampy 25,000-acre nature reserve in Florida for Laundrie, and have previously searched his parents’ Florida home.
Petito and Laundrie began posting online about their vanlife trip in a converted camper van in June. They were stopped by police in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12 after a 911 caller said they had seen Laundrie slapping and hitting Petito outside of the Moonflower Community Cooperative.
Body camera footage showed Petito crying as she described an argument that escalated into her slapping Laundrie as he drove. Police asked the couple to separate for the night, but neither Petito or Laundrie were detained and no charges were filed.
Since then, the city of Moab has announced the launching of an independent investigation into the way officers handled the incident.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters