Petito strangled weeks before body was found, officials say
JACKSON — Hundreds of thousands of people watched live and millions reacted as Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announced in a video press conference Tuesday that Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, 22, died by strangulation.
A document the coroner’s office filed with the Teton County Clerk of District Court specified the homicide was “manual strangulation/throttling.”
Strangulation is among the most fatal and dominating forms of abuse, domestic violence experts say.
Petito’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, remains only a person of interest in the homicide at this time, though he is sought on fraud charges for using Petito’s debit card.
“One in four women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetimes,” states a fact sheet written by the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, “and of women at high risk, up to 68 percent will experience near-fatal strangulation by their partner. Loss of consciousness can occur within 5 to 10 minutes; death within minutes.”
Petito died between three to four weeks before being found, Blue said. He did not know the exact date of her death and said there would likely not be a specific date listed on her death certificate.
He wouldn’t discuss the condition of her remains, but he noted that they were outside for up to four weeks before search teams found her Sept. 19.
Throughout the press conference, which was held via video conference and concurrently livestreamed by news organizations, reporters asked Blue if he could draw conclusions about whether Laundrie was involved in the strangulation.
“I can’t make any comment about any suspects because we’re not involved in that part of the investigation,” Blue said. “We are only involved in the investigation of the body of the deceased. So who committed the homicide is really to be determined by law enforcement.”
Blue said that Valley Mortuary is in possession of Petito’s remains and that the funeral home is in contact with her family to return them.
He also dismissed the rumor that she was pregnant.
Blue noted the nature of the case, which has caught the attention of millions of people, and he lamented that most domestic violence victims didn’t receive nearly as much attention.
“Unfortunately, this is only one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence, and it’s unfortunate that those deaths don’t receive as much coverage,” Blue said.
Blue ruled the manner of death as homicide after an initial examination of Petito’s remains on Sept. 21; however, the FBI said at the time that the cause of death and other details wouldn’t be available until final autopsy results.
The autopsy included a whole body CT scan, an examination by a forensic pathologist and by a forensic anthropologist, and a toxicology analysis, Blue said.
Petito’s body was found near the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, just outside Grand Teton National Park, following a multiday investigation by Denver FBI agents, the National Park Service, the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Teton County Search and Rescue and the Jackson Police Department.
The vanlifer and blogger had been traveling across the country and camping with 23-year-old Laundrie when she disappeared. Petito’s family had last talked to her on Aug. 25, when she told her mother she was in Grand Teton National Park and would be heading to Yellowstone. The last publicly reported sighting of Petito alive was Aug. 27 at the Merry Piglets restaurant in Jackson.
Laundrie returned to his parents’ Florida home in Petito’s van on Sept. 1 without her. Ten days later, having not heard from their daughter or Laundrie, Petito’s parents reported her missing, according to law enforcement.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Petito’s brother wrote on Instagram after the FBI announced that remains had been found. “I’m at a total loss. My heart is shattered.”
On the day the search concluded, Petito’s father shared a photo of his daughter posing in front of an angel mural, the 22-year-old smiling and seemingly sprouting lifesize, rainbow-colored wings.
“She touched the world,” Joseph Petito wrote in the post on the Facebook page the family created to aid in the search.
Authorities are now looking for Laundrie, who is a person of interest in the homicide case. He is also wanted on a federal arrest warrant that Wyoming’s U.S. District Court issued on Sept. 22 for “use of unauthorized access devices” relating to charges Laundrie allegedly made after Petito’s death on a bank card that did not belong to him.
There have been unsubstantiated tips about Laundrie’s whereabouts from Mexico to Canada, but to date, law enforcement officers have concentrated searches on the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida.
Laundrie and Petito, originally from Long Island, New York, were high school sweethearts. They had been living with Laundrie’s parents in Florida when they began a cross-country road trip in July, driving her 2012 white Ford Transit van, which they had converted into a camper.
On Sept. 17, the attorney for Laundrie’s family contacted the FBI indicating they wanted to talk about their son’s disappearance. Laundrie’s parents told law enforcement they last saw their son Sept. 14.
“She was out there in nature camping. That’s what she wanted. She lived her dream, and I am glad she got to do that,” Nichole Schmidt said of her 22-year-old daughter during an interview on the “Dr. Phil” show.