Skip to Content

Gabby Petito’s cause of death was strangulation, coroner says

JACKSON, Wyo. (KIFI) – UPDATE: Gabby Petito's cause of death was ruled to be strangulation and the manner of death was homicide, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said on Tuesday.

In particular, the cause of death was "manual strangulation/throttling," according to the coroner's verdict, a legal document Blue filed on October 5 with the Teton County Clerk of District Court. During the news conference, Blue said the cause of death was strangulation, but did not go into specifics.

He said that the time of Petito's death was estimated to be about three to four weeks before her body was found on September 19 in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, an estimated date that matches up with the timeline of when she last spoke with her family.

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. He declined to provide further details about Petito's autopsy or a potential suspect, saying he was limited in what information he could legally release.

How we got here

The announcement came at a news conference about a month after Petito, 22, was reported missing in the wake of a road trip with her 23-year-old fiancé Brian Laundrie.

The couple had spent the summer traveling the Western US in a white van and documenting their adventures on social media. But Laundrie returned to the Florida home they shared with his parents on September 1 without Petito, and her family was unable to get in touch with her.

She was first reported missing by her parents on September 11, and after an extensive search, her remains were found near where their van was last seen on September 19. The national focus on her whereabouts revealed that they were involved in a domestic dispute in Utah in August.

Amid the search for her whereabouts, Laundrie disappeared and has not been seen for weeks. His parents have told authorities they believe he went for a hike in a nature reserve near their home in North Port, Florida, and did not return.

Blue had previously ruled the manner of her death a homicide in his preliminary findings, but the cause of death had been pending further autopsy results, according to the FBI.

At Tuesday's news conference, Blue did not identify Laundrie as a suspect in the case, although he referred to Petito's case as "only one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence."

Laundrie has not been charged in Petito's death. He was indicted on charges of allegedly using two financial accounts that did not belong to him in the days following her death.

In a statement Tuesday, Laundrie's family attorney Steve Bertolino said that Laundrie had used a debit card that belonged to Petito but noted he was not a suspect in her death.

"Gabby Petito's death at such a young age is a tragedy," Bertolino told CNN.

"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," he added. "At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the pending fraud charge against him."

Petito's case has elicited heartbreak, outrage and intrigue in much of the public, but it has also highlighted the tens of thousands of missing persons' stories that do not garner such intense interest. There were nearly 90,000 active missing person cases as of the end of 2020, according to the National Crime Information Center. Few missing person cases are met with as much urgency and national attention as Petito's

What we know about Petito's final days

From the posts on social media, Petito's final days looked idyllic. But after she was reported missing, accounts surfaced of rising conflict between the couple.

Petito called her mom regularly, and those conversations appeared to reveal there was "more and more tension" in Petito's relationship, according to a police affidavit for a search warrant of an external hard drive found in the couple's van.

On August 27, an "odd text" from Petito worried her mother that something was wrong, according to a search warrant.

"Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls," the message read, according to the affidavit. Stan was a reference to Petito's grandfather, who her mother said Petito never referred to that way, according to the affidavit.

Along their travels, the couple was stopped by police after a 911 caller told dispatchers August 12 he saw a man hitting a woman, according to audio provided by the Grand County Sheriff's Office in Moab, Utah.

"We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl," the caller said. "Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off."

CNN obtained dispatch audio recordings from the Grand County Sheriff's office last month that shed more light on what Moab police were told about "some sort of altercation."

And on August 27, a witness described a "commotion" as they were leaving the Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming.

Petito was in tears and Laundrie was visibly angry, going into and out of the restaurant several times, showing anger toward the staff around the hostess stand, the witness Nina Angelo said. The couple's waitress was also visibly shaken by the incident, said Angelo, who told CNN she did not see any violence or physical altercation between Petito and Laundrie.

A manager at Merry Piglets, who declined to give her name, did see "an incident" at the restaurant and called the FBI, she told CNN. The manager declined to describe what happened and said the restaurant did not have surveillance video of the incident.

The search for Laundrie

Before he disappeared, police in North Port were surveilling Laundrie as best they legally could, a police spokesperson told CNN's Randi Kaye.

Investigators said Laundrie's parents told them on September 17 that he had left home days earlier and was headed to the nearby Carlton Reserve -- sparking a search of the nature reserve's 25,000 acres. Initially, his parents said he left on September 14, but last week, Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino said, "We now believe the day Brian left to hike in the preserve was Monday, September 13."

When he left, he didn't take his cell phone and wallet with him, and his parents were concerned he might hurt himself, a source close to Laundrie's family told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

At the time, Laundrie was not wanted in connection with a crime, but North Port Police spokesperson Josh Taylor said Laundrie had an "enormous amount of pressure" on him to provide answers in Petito's disappearance.

The FBI searched the Laundrie home on September 20, removing a number of items and towing away a Ford Mustang convertible.

Attention then turned toward the Carlton nature preserve, where authorities combed through swampland filled with snakes and alligators, utilizing drones, dive teams and bloodhounds.

After more than a week of searching for Laundrie, the FBI went back to his parents, asking for personal items of his to assist with DNA matching. They provided what they could, Bertolino, the Laundries' lawyer, told multiple news outlets.

Laundrie's father has participated in a search of the nature reserve for him, but he has no plans to assist in police searches and the couple will not take a polygraph test, Bertolino said.

Timeline

Here's what we know about the timeline in Petito's case.

June 2021

Petito and Laundrie embark on a cross-country trip, according to North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison, who refers to Laundrie as Petito's fiancé.

They planned to travel in Petito's white Ford van to the West Coast and visit state and national parks across the western United States, Garrison says at a news briefing.

She had been excited to share her journey with her family and others on social media, he says.

"She maintained regular contact with her family members during her travels; however, that communication abruptly stopped around the end of August," the police chief adds.

August 12, 2021

Moab, Utah, police have an encounter with the couple on August 12, where officers describe them as having "engaged in some sort of altercation."

Although the two are described as getting into a physical fight following an argument, "both the male and female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn't wish to see anyone charged with a crime," a report from officer Eric Pratt says.

At officers' suggestion, the couple separated for the night, the report says, which describes Petito as "confused and emotional."

"After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis," officer Daniel Robbins writes in the report. No charges are filed.

The couple each had their own cell phones in case of emergency, the report adds.

In a 911 audio recording from that day which was provided by the Grand County Sheriff's Office, a caller tells dispatch he wanted to report a domestic dispute and described a white van with a Florida license plate.

The caller said that as they were driving by, "the gentleman was slapping the girl."

"Then we stopped," the caller added. "They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off."

Last week of August

Petito's family told police they were last in contact with her during the last week of August, North Port police say. Before that last communication, Petito is believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, police say.

In a news conference in September, Petito family attorney Richard Stafford says the family's last communication with Petito was August 30, but they do not believe the message they received was from her.

Stafford shares a timeline of events on September 17, as the family knows it:

  • On August 24, Petito FaceTimes with her mother and tells her she is leaving Utah and heading to the Teton range in Wyoming.
  • On August 25, there are multiple texts between Petito and her mother. The young woman's family believes she is in the Tetons on this date.
  • On August 27, there were more texts between Petito and her mother, during which her family believes she remains in the Tetons.
  • On August 30, her family receives their last text from Petito. They doubt she wrote that text. According to Stafford, that message reads, "No service in Yosemite."

Also in September, a woman publicly claimed that she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride on August 29 in Wyoming -- and that Laundrie claimed he'd been camping by himself for multiple days while Petito was at their van working on social media posts.

In a series of videos posted on TikTok, Miranda Baker said she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie that evening while he was hitchhiking in Colter Bay, Wyoming. Laundrie told them he had been camping at a site outside the Grand Teton National Park, near the Snake River, she said.

Once Laundrie found out Baker and her boyfriend were going to Jackson Hole instead of Jackson, he got agitated, asked that the vehicle stop, and got out near the Jackson Dam, according to Baker.

Baker said she spoke to law enforcement about the interaction. North Port police confirmed to CNN that Baker spoke with the department before posting the videos on TikTok.

"Her account is plausible, it appears," North Port police spokesperson Josh Taylor said. CNN has not been able to independently verify Baker's claims.

September 1, 2021

Laundrie returns to the couple's North Port home, where his parents also live, on September 1, according to police.

According to an affidavit attached to a search warrant request, a license plate reader shows the vehicle exited Interstate 75 into North Port at 10:26 a.m. ET.

The white vehicle Petito and Laundrie had been traveling in was later recovered by police at the home. It was processed and "there was some material in there" that authorities will be going through, Taylor, the police spokesperson, says at a news briefing.

September 11, 2021

After not being able to get in touch with her, Petito's family -- who lives in New York -- reports her missing to the Suffolk County, New York, Police Department.

North Port authorities go to Laundrie's home that night and ask to speak to him and his family, but "we were essentially handed the information for their attorney," Taylor, the police spokesperson, says.

"That is the extent of our conversation with them," Taylor says.

September 16

In a letter read by the Petito family attorney during a news briefing held by police, the missing woman's family begs for Laundrie's family to help in the investigation.

"Please, if you or your family have any decency left, please, tell us where Gabby is located," Stafford says. "Tell us if we are even looking in the right place. All we want is for Gabby to come home. Please help us make that happen."

He says Petito's family reached out to Laundrie's family earlier in the month for information on Petito's whereabouts, but his family refused to answer.

"We haven't been able to sleep or eat, and our lives are falling apart," the Petito family's letter adds.

September 17

After several days of both Petito's family and police pleading with Laundrie's family to cooperate in the investigation, Laundrie's family requests that the police come to their home, where they share they haven't seen Brian since September 14, according to Taylor, the police spokesperson.

"We've been trying all week to talk to his family, to talk to Brian, and now they've called us here on Friday, we've gone to the home, and they're saying now they have not seen their son," Taylor tells CNN's Chris Cuomo. "It is another twist in this story."

Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino tells CNN "the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie are currently unknown. The FBI is currently at the Laundrie residence removing property to assist in locating Brian. As of now the FBI is now looking for both Gabby and Brian."

Local and federal authorities kick off a search for the 23-year-old man.

September 18

North Port police say authorities are conducting a search for Laundrie at the Carlton Reserve, a natural area with more than 80 miles of hiking trails in Venice, Florida.

Roughly 50 law enforcement officers from five local agencies and the FBI are searching for Laundrie, Taylor, the police spokesperson, says at a news conference, adding that Laundrie has an "enormous amount of pressure" on him to provide answers to what's going on.

Meanwhile, the FBI announces the agency and its partners are also conducting ground surveys in Grand Teton National Park that are relevant to Petito's disappearance.

The national park is where Petito is believed to have been before her last communication with her family, police have previously said.

September 19

Human remains discovered in Teton County, Wyoming, are "consistent with the description of" Petito, FBI officials say in a news conference.

"Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100% that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified of this discovery," Charles Jones, FBI Denver's supervisory senior resident agent in Wyoming, says.

September 20

The parents of Brian Laundrie are questioned at their home by the FBI.

Christopher and Roberta Laundrie are escorted from their home and return after federal agents executed a search warrant, according to Taylor, the North Port police spokesperson. Authorities search the home for hours.

Police say they have exhausted search avenues at the nature reserve and the search area has shifted.

September 21

The Teton County coroner confirms the human remains found Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest were those of Petito, according to the FBI.

"The cause of death remains pending final autopsy results," the FBI said.

Author Profile Photo

News Team

CNN

Comments

Leave a Reply

Skip to content