After weeks of piecing together the last moments of the life of Gabby Petito, her family and her supporters finally have a crucial answer in her case. A Wyoming coroner disclosed on Tuesday that after examining Gabby’s remains—located on September 19 in the Bridger-Teton National Forest—that Gabby had died as a direct result of strangulation. The Teton County Coroner, Dr. Brent Blue, had previously ruled her death as a homicide with the manner of homicide undetermined. No further details have been released at this time. The Petito cause of death likely comes as little comfort to the country at large, which is currently in the grips of a wide-scale man-hunt for Gabby’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who has been named a person of interest in her murder.
The Petito cause of death is just one more piece in composing the 1000-piece puzzle of Gabby’s last days. Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie were on a cross-country trip in a repurposed Ford Transit van, documenting their travels and experiences through social media. Before Gabby fell completely out of contact with her family in late August, her family was unable to determine if the scant few text messages they received were even authored by Gabby. Even more disturbing, Brian Laundrie returned to his home in North Port, Florida alone on September 1, 2021. Gabby wasn’t reported missing until her family finally filed a missing person report on September 11, 2021. However, when authorities went to question Brian Laundrie on his knowledge of Gabby’s whereabouts, his parents shielded him from police. Not long after that, Brian Laundrie was nowhere to be found, leaving even more questions about what his exact role was in the Petito cause of death. He told his family on September 14 that he was going out for a hike and has not been seen since.
In addition to determining cause of death, Blue was also able to determine that Gabby’s remains had been in the wilderness for approximately 3-4 weeks before she was found by authorities, placing her time of death in mid to late August. While Laundrie has only been named a ‘person of interest’ by law enforcement, there is still a warrant out for his arrest after authorities determined Laundrie used Gabby’s debit card without her permission. While the internet has speculated highly about the relationship dynamic between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, one of the only hard pieces of evidence available to the public is a police body-cam video that captured the aftermath of an argument between them following a report to 911 that a man in Utah had witnessed Laundrie slap Gabby. When the responding officer pulled the Ford Transit over with Gabby in the passenger seat, the couple was separated for the evening to avoid domestic violence charges.
While the search for Brian Laundrie continues throughout the United States—even with the help of Dog the Bounty Hunter—missing person experts like Thomas Lauth suspect that Brian had evaded police through a combination of survival knowledge and help from third parties, “I have never thought he would stay in Florida very long,” Lauth said. “I believe he had some outside resources available to him early on, but those outside resources have likely cut him off because he’s a fugitive…He’s been a savvy traveler for many years. When I say ‘savvy,’ he’s able to live off the land and he knows how to travel alone and lightly.”