Cross-country traveller Gabby Petito was strangled to death, a Wyoming coroner announced Tuesday.
Petito, 22, died three to four weeks before her body was found Sept. 19 near an undeveloped camping area along the border of Grand Teton National Park in remote northern Wyoming, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said in a news conference.
It wasn’t clear if the determination might lead to additional charges against Petito’s boyfriend and travelling partner, Brian Laundrie, who is considered a person of interest in her disappearance and remains unaccounted for.
Blue declined to say more about the autopsy or the case overall, saying he was prevented by Wyoming law that limits what coroners can release.
Petito had been on a cross-country trip with Laundrie and visited Colorado, Utah and other states. She was reported missing Sept. 11 by her parents after she did not respond to calls and texts for several days while the couple visited parks in the West.
Blue previously classified Petito’s death as a homicide — meaning her death was caused by another person — but had not disclosed how she was killed pending further autopsy results.
A “detailed analysis” led to his conclusion Petito was strangled, Blue said. “Nothing is obvious in a case like this.”
Blue said little more about Petito’s physical condition — including whether she may have been strangled directly by somebody’s hands, a rope or some other item — but noted when asked that she wasn’t pregnant.
The three to four weeks her body was believed to be in the wilderness, however, would put her death around the Aug. 27-30 period that investigators believe Petito and Laundrie had traveled to the area.
Petito’s case has led to renewed calls for people to pay greater attention to cases involving missing Indigenous women and other people of colour, with some commentators describing the intense coverage of her disappearance as “missing white woman syndrome.”
Search for boyfriend ongoing
The search for Laundrie has generated a frenzy, with TV personalities like Duane Chapman — known as Dog the Bounty Hunter — and longtime America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh working to track him down.
Petito and Laundrie posted online about their trip in a white Ford Transit van converted into a camper. They got into a physical altercation Aug. 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop, which ended with police deciding to separate the quarreling couple for the night. No charges were filed, and no serious injuries were reported.
Investigators have searched for Laundrie in Florida and also searched his parents’ home in North Port, about 56 kilometres south of Sarasota.
Federal officials in Wyoming last month charged Laundrie with unauthorized use of a debit card, alleging he used a Capital One Bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorized withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 US during the period in which Petito went missing. They did not say to whom the card belonged.
Asked about the coroner’s determination, the lawyer for the Laundrie family, Steven Bertolino, said in a statement that his client only faces the fraud charge in the case.
“At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the fraud charge pending against him,” Bertolino said.
In Florida, FBI-led search teams have been looking in a vast nature preserve for any sign of Laundrie. Weeks of searching in the swampy Carlton Reserve south of Sarasota — where Laundrie’s parents say he went after returning home from the West — have turned up nothing.