Petito’s death ruled homicide
JACKSON — The search for Brian Laundrie continues three days after his partner Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was found dead near the Grand Teton National Park boundary at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area.
Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue ruled Petito’s death a homicide following a Tuesday autopsy that confirmed the 22-year-old’s identity. The exact cause of death is still being determined.
Prior to the official confirmation, Petito’s family released the following statement:
“I want to personally thank the press and news media for giving the Petito and Schmidt family time to grieve. We will be making a statement when Gabby is home,” the family said through its attorney, Richard Benson Stafford.
Petito’s remains were found Sunday on the bank of Spread Creek 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.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Petito’s brother wrote Sunday afternoon on Instagram. “I’m at a total loss. My heart is shattered.”
Laundrie, 23, remains a person of interest in the case. No criminal case against him had been filed as of press time Tuesday, more than a week after he went missing, though his parents didn’t report him missing until Friday.
“The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms. Petito’s death is held accountable for their actions,” Special Agent Michael Schneider said in a statement.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that Florida State Police would assist in the search for Laundrie.
“At the request of @NorthPortPolice, @MyFWC law enforcement has been assisting in the search for Brian Laundrie,” DeSantis said on Twitter. “I have directed all state agencies under my purview to continue to assist federal & local law enforcement as they continue to search — we need justice for Gabby Petito.”
The North Port Police Department said Tuesday that it would return to the 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve in Florida to look for Laundrie, a day after saying it had “exhausted all avenues’’ in the search for him in that area.
A search warrant issued last week for Laundrie’s possessions said: “During the trip” Petito “sent multiple text messages and had many talks with her mother, Nichole Schmidt, via cellphone communication.” The warrant continued: “During these conversations there appeared to be more and more tension between her and Laundrie.”
Petito’s mother last spoke with her daughter over the phone Aug. 25, when the travel blogger said she was in Grand Teton National Park and would be heading to Yellowstone.
But two days later, the search warrant states, her mom received an “odd text” from Petito. According to the search warrant: “The text message read, ‘Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.’ The reference to ‘Stan,’ was regarding her grandfather, but according to the mother, she never calls him ‘Stan.’”
That text message was the last communication on Petito’s phone to anybody, the warrant states. Soon after, her cellphone wasn’t powered on and she stopped documenting the trip.
The family told investigators “this was not normal behavior ... and they became worried about her.”
Laundrie had returned home to Florida by himself on Sept. 1 in the white Ford Transit van he and Petito had been driving across the U.S. After not receiving responses from calls to Laundrie and his family members, Petito’s parents reported her missing on Sept. 11.
Domestic violence experts, who expected Petito’s death to be ruled a homicide, said Laundrie’s behavior was consistent with what they see in abusive relationships.
“For me it’s a likelihood based on statistics and our familiarity with how abuse and power and control works,” Adrian Croke, director of education and prevention at the Community Safety Network, said Monday.
“Homicide and intimate partner violence are not a rare combination, and that is a sad reality,” she said. “But the more we recognize and talk about it, the more we can be aware and fight it.”
One in 3 women has experienced intimate partner violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and over half of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by a current or former male intimate partner.
About two weeks before Petito was last heard from, police officers in Moab responded to a domestic violence call after a witness reported the couple being violent.