Gabrielle Petito died of strangulation, coroner says
By Alyssa Lukpat
Gabrielle Petito, the Florida woman whose disappearance led to a wide-ranging investigation into her fiance, who returned home without her from a cross-country trip before disappearing himself, died from strangulation, authorities said earlier this week.
Dr. Brent Blue, the Teton County, Wyoming, coroner, did not disclose at a news briefing how Petito was strangled. He said her body had been outside for three to four weeks before it was found Sept. 19 in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, in Wyoming.
The Teton County Coroner’s Office had determined Sept. 21 that her death was a homicide, but Blue said Tuesday that he did not know the exact day Petito died.
“There will not be an exact date of death on the death certificate,” he said.
Blue revealed little else about the condition of Petito’s body, though he said she was not pregnant at the time of her death. (Rumors had circulated that she was pregnant.) Authorities conducted a toxicology test on her body, which is being held at a local mortuary, but did not disclose the results. Blue directed further questions about the homicide to the FBI.
The police in Florida are still scouring a vast wildlife reserve in the state for Petito’s fiance, Brian Laundrie, 23, who was described as a “person of interest” by the police. Before he went missing, Laundrie had through a lawyer declined to speak to investigators, the police said. Authorities later issued an arrest warrant for him on a charge of debit card fraud.
Petito and Laundrie set out to visit national parks and travel the country in July, in a white Ford van outfitted with a bed and other necessities as part of a “van life” adventure.
On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to the North Port, Florida, home where he lived with his parents and Petito, in the van, which was registered to Petito.
Ten days later, Petito’s family reported her missing. The search for her soon involved the FBI and National Park rangers and stretched across at least two states.
Then, six days after Petito was reported missing, Laundrie’s parents told the police they had not seen him for several days, starting a second search for a missing person. Authorities began to scour the 24,565 acres of a wildlife refuge, the Carlton Reserve, in Sarasota County, Florida, and the FBI served a search warrant at the Laundrie residence.
As Petito’s family and the police pleaded for help from the public, the case drew intense interest on social media, including from some who scrutinized the couple’s cheerful Instagram posts and others who criticized the lack of similar attention on the cases of missing women of color.
Petito’s father, Joseph Petito, said last month that social media users had been “amazing” and “very influential” in his daughter’s case.
“To be honest, it should continue for other people, too,” he said at a news conference. “This same type of heightened awareness should be continued for everyone — everyone.”