Wyoming authorities on Tuesday announced the cause of death for Gabby Petito, 22, who disappeared while on a cross-country van trip with her fiancé Brian Laundrie and whose body turned up weeks later.
The cause of Petito’s death was “death by strangulation,” according to Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue.
Blue said Petito died about three to four weeks before her remains were found during a search on Sept. 19. Blue reiterated, however, that Petito’s death certificate will not contain a specific date of death. In the State of Wyoming, death certificates allow an “approximate” date of death and some “variability” surrounding the date of death, Blue said.
“Who committed the homicide is up to law enforcement,” Dr. Blue said when asked if Brian Laundrie was a suspect in the killing. He later clarified that his office was only involved with the question of how Petito died — not with who may have killed her.
Under state law, Dr. Blue said deaths in Wyoming must be deemed to have been the result of either homicide, suicide, accidental, or natural occurrence.
Dr. Blue refused to detail any of the injuries Petito suffered, citing a state law which prevents his office from releasing anything beyond the cause and manner of death. He said DNA samples were taken by law enforcement but declined to say what condition Petito’s body was in when it was found. He said simply that the body had been outside “in the wilderness for three to four weeks.” He said he could not release whether the body was buried or whether it was on the surface of the ground. He did add, however, that Petito was not pregnant when she died.
Blue said the investigative process took considerable time because his office wanted to make sure it had “everything right,” including toxicology reports from a laboratory.
“Nothing is obvious in a situation like this,” he said several times.
“The cause of death required investigation,” the doctor later added when asked if Petito’s injuries were immediately “obvious” when her body was found. He said he could not release whether Petito was strangled manually or with an item.
Blue said the entire autopsy was performed at his offices in Teton County, Wyoming. When asked about the interest the case generated, he referred to the matter as a “media circus.”
The FBI revealed exactly three weeks ago that Dr. Blue initially ruled the manner of Petito’s death was homicide. The Tuesday announcement reaffirmed that finding and added the cause of death determination.
Dr. Blue said Petito’s remains had been released to a mortuary that was discussing the disposition of her remains with her family.
Steve Bertolino, a lawyer for Laundrie’s parents, released the following statement to Law&Crime in response to Dr. Blue’s findings [links added by us for context]:
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. At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the fraud charge pending against him.
The young woman’s relatives reported her missing on Sept. 11 after she and Laundrie crisscrossed the country in a white van and documented their explorations on Instagram. The couple commenced the trip in mid June. However, on Aug. 12, they were captured on body camera video by authorities in Moab, Utah, after a suspected domestic dispute.
Richard Stafford, an attorney for the Petito family, told CNN that Petito talked with her mother on Aug. 24 via FaceTime. During that conversation, Gabby indicated she was heading from Utah to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Petito then texted her mother on Aug. 25 and again on Aug. 27. Her family believes she was in the Tetons on those dates. The family received another text on Aug. 30 which said “No service in Yosemite.” According to CNN, the family doubted that Petito sent the latter text.
Cassie Laundrie, Brian’s sister, said Brian flew home to Florida on Aug. 17th in the middle of the cross-country van trip but that she did not know what day he left to return to the west. Both Cassie Laundrie and her husband James Luycx said Brian Laundrie said nothing to them about fighting with Petito just a few days earlier.
Earlier in the case, Bertolino confirmed for the Law&Crime Network that Brian Laundrie flew from Salt Lake City to Tampa to join his family on Aug. 17. Bertolino added that Brian flew back to Salt Lake City on Aug. 23. Petito talked to her mother the next day according to the timeline of events provided by Stafford.
“To my knowledge, Brian and Gabby paid for the flights as they were sharing expenses,” Bertolino added. “Brian flew home to obtain some items and empty and close the storage unit to save money as they contemplated extending the road trip.”
Cassie Laundrie also indicated in a protester confrontation obtained by NewsNation that Brian had a storage unit but that it was unclear precisely where it was located.
According to CNN, a couple from Louisiana saw Laundrie and Petito involved in a “commotion” at The Merry Piglets Mexican Grill in Jackson, Wyo., on Aug. 27. Petito was crying; Laundrie was angry.
Also according to CNN, two individuals said they found Brian Laundrie hitchhiking on Aug. 29. The second individual said she dropped Brian Laundrie off at the gates to the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in Wyoming — right where Petito’s remains were found weeks later.
Laundrie returned to his Florida home on Sept. 1 driving the white van he and Petito had taken on their journey. Petito was not with him. Petito’s family reported her missing some ten days later on Sept. 11. Law enforcement investigations spanning multiple states in multiple time zones ensued.
Editor’s note: this report, which began as a developing story, has been updated since its initial publication.
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