Gabby Petito died by strangulation 'three to four weeks' before body was found, Wyoming coroner says
Twenty-two-year-old travel vlogger Gabby Petito, whose disappearance fueled intense interest across the nation and spurred a search for her missing fiance, died by strangulation, a Wyoming medical examiner said Tuesday.
Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue ruled Petito's death a homicide last month. He said Tuesday that Petito's body had been "outside in the wilderness for three to four weeks" before it was found Sept. 19.
"Unfortunately this is only one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved with domestic violence, and it's unfortunate that these other deaths did not get as much coverage as this one," Blue said.
Petito's case has sparked a national conversation around whose disappearances gain public, media and law enforcement attention. Indigenous, Black and brown people go missing at higher rates but tend to attract less media coverage than white people, particularly white women – a studied phenomenon known as "missing white woman syndrome."
"I assume that because the deceased was a blogger that this received more coverage than others, but there are a lot of both men and women who have lost their lives who aren't covered by the kind of media attention," Blue said.
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Blue said he could not comment on how he reached his conclusions or who may have killed Petito. Law enforcement took DNA samples from the body, he said, and it "would be up to law enforcement" to determine whether whoever strangled Petito intended to kill her. Petito was not pregnant, Blue said.
Only the cause and manner of death are released by Wyoming state statute, not other autopsy findings and photographs, he said.
Blue said officials conducted a whole-body CAT scan on Petito, a forensic pathology examination, a forensic anthropology examination and a toxicology evaluation. Blue said he was unable to comment on the results on the examinations.
Petito had been on a cross-country road trip this summer with her fiance, Brian Laundrie, when she disappeared.
Petito and Laundrie were high school sweethearts from New York's Long Island. Laundrie's parents later moved to North Port, Florida, 35 miles southeast of Sarasota, and the young couple moved in with his parents.
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They left from Long Island in July on a monthslong tour of national parks and other sites, bound for Oregon, occasionally posting happy social media photos and stories along the way. Laundrie returned to Florida alone Sept. 1, and 10 days later, Petito's parents filed a missing persons report after not hearing from her since late August. Petito's body was found Sept. 19 near a Wyoming campground.
After Petito's disappearance, police video emerged of problems between the couple, and officers at one point separated Petito and Laundrie for a night after a domestic dispute had turned physical.
In Utah, the Grand County sheriff's office released a 911 call from Aug. 12 in which the caller says he drove by the couple's van and witnessed that "the gentleman was slapping the girl."
Body camera video showed Petito in tears during a police stop on the side of a highway near Arches National Park in Utah. The footage shows a police officer speaking with Laundrie, who said friction had been building between the two for several days, though authorities at the scene took no action other than telling the couple to separate for the night.
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Laundrie has not been charged in Petito's death, but he does face charges of unauthorized use of a debit card and several accounts involving more than $1,000. The documents do not state who the cards or accounts belong to.
The indictment also charges Laundrie with unauthorized access of a device and says he used the bank accounts without permission from about Aug. 30 through Sept. 1.
Steven Bertolino, the attorney for the Laundrie family, said in a statement Laundrie 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," Bertolino said in a statement.
Authorities have said that neither Laundrie nor his family members cooperated with the effort to find Petito in the days after she was reported missing. Then Laundrie disappeared. He was last seen a few days before Petito's body was found.
Laundrie's parents said he had told them he was going hiking in the Carlton Reserve, a sprawling wilderness and wetland area near the Florida home that Laundrie and Petito shared with his parents. His disappearance prompted a massive, weekslong search.
Authorities used drones, scent-sniffing dogs and all-terrain vehicles, and investigators took some of his clothing from his parents’ home to provide a scent for the search dogs.
TV personality Duane Lee Chapman, known as "Dog the Bounty Hunter," was among the searchers and has promised to nab Laundrie before his 24th birthday on Nov. 18. John Walsh, a victims’ advocate and host of the TV show "In Pursuit With John Walsh," also joined the chase.
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In an interview last week, Laundrie's sister, Cassie Laundrie, said she does not know where he is.
"I'd turn him in," she told ABC News. "I worry about him. I hope he's OK, and then I am angry and don't know what to think. I would tell my brother to just come forward and get us out of this horrible mess.'
Cassie Laundrie said she has tried contacting Brian Laundrie since his disappearance, but phone calls went to voicemail. She said she last saw him Sept. 6 during a family camping trip.
"There was nothing peculiar about it. There was no feeling of grand goodbye. There was no nothing," she said.
A makeshift memorial honoring Petito in North Port was taken down Tuesday. The memorial outside City Hall "has been a shining example" of support for the family, but the mementos have become damaged in the weather, the city said in a statement. The items will be given to the Petito family, and officials area working on plans for a donated, permanent memorial.
"Those looking to pay their respects may also want to consider supporting the Gabby Petito Foundation to help parents locate missing children," the statement said. "Thank you for your understanding in this sensitive and important issue."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gabby Petito autopsy ruling: Coroner says she died by strangulation