NORTH PORT, Fla. – Gabby Petito died from strangulation, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue revealed during a Tuesday news briefing, weeks after the FBI uncovered the 22-year-old’s remains at Bridger-Teton National Forest, north of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Blue last month announced the young woman’s manner of death was homicide.
Brian Laundrie, Petito’s fiance and the only person of interest named in connection with the case, hasn’t been seen since Sept. 13. He is also the subject of a federal warrant for alleged bank card fraud.
Petito’s remains were out in the Wyoming wilderness for three to four weeks, Brent said, without going into detail about the impact this may have had on the autopsy. She was seen alive in public on Aug. 27, three weeks and two days before the discovery.
“We hereby find the cause and manner of death to be, the cause, death by strangulation, and manner is homicide,” Blue said. “By Wyoming state statute, no other information will be released about the autopsy.”
He ruled out rumors that Petito had been pregnant at the time of her death and stressed that information about a potential suspect would have to come from law enforcement.
The FBI’s Denver Field Office is leading the investigation into Petito’s slaying.
Blue declined to go into greater detail about the autopsy findings, citing Wyoming law.
Pat Diaz, a longtime Miami-Dade homicide detective, said the examiner likely reached the strangulation conclusion due to a broken hyoid, which he said could only be seen through an X-ray due to the body’s state of decomposition.
Strangulation could be difficult to prosecute in court without a confession, Diaz said, but not impossible.
Blue had previously declined to answer questions about whether his office was equipped with an X-ray machine — but said Tuesday that the entire autopsy was conducted at his facility.
He attributed the lengthy delay in announcing the cause of death to his thoroughness in the examination of the body.
“We were very exacting our examination and the detail by which that examination was done,” he said. “We were waiting for various specialists to come in and help us with this investigation. We were waiting on toxicology to be returned, and it was just a matter of making sure we had everything right.”
He declined to release any findings from the toxicology report, citing Wyoming statute.
As of Friday, Petito’s remains were still being held in Wyoming. Blue said the family was making arrangements for her return home to New York.
“Bringing her home is the family’s top priority,” the attorney for her parents, Richard Stafford, told Fox News.
The discovery came eight days after her mother reported her missing on Long Island, New York, and 18 days after her fiance, Brian Laundrie, returned home to Florida without her.
“Gabby Petito’s death at such a young age is a tragedy,” Laundrie’s attorney, Steve Bertolino, said in a statement Tuesday. “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 pending fraud charge against him.”
The couple grew up on Long Island and began dating after attending high school together. They later moved to North Port, Florida., where they lived with Laundrie’s parents. In June, they embarked on a cross-country journey in a converted white Ford Transit with the plan to visit national parks along the way.
On Aug. 12, witnesses called police on the couple in Moab, Utah, after allegedly seeing Laundrie slapping and hitting Petito outside an organic grocer just off Main Street. No charges were filed, but police told them to split up overnight and drove Laundrie to a hotel.
However it’s unclear whether he checked in. The owner told Fox News the room had been booked through a nonprofit for domestic violence victims and was not in his name.
Jason Jensen, a Salt Lake City-based private investigator, predicted Monday that the cause of death could be strangulation due to Petito’s gesturing toward her chin and neck in bodycam video of the Aug. 12 incident.
On Aug. 27, in what was possibly the last public sighting of Petito, eyewitnesses said they saw her crying as Laundrie fought with restaurant staff at Merry Piglets, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
On Sept. 1, months after they began their trip, Laundrie returned to the North Port home in the couple’s van, but without Petito, officials said. The young woman was not reported missing until 10 days later, on Sept. 11, when her mother notified police in Suffolk County, New York. Authorities later seized the van from the Laundries’ home.
Laundrie was subsequently named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance. His whereabouts remained unknown as of Tuesday afternoon. He has not been charged in her death.