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.
“We believe this was strangling by a human being,” Blue told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Blue earlier said 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 approximate time that matches the timeline of when she last spoke with her family.
Richard Stafford, the Petito family’s attorney, said in September, Petito FaceTimed with her mother August 24 and exchanged texts over the following three days. The family received one last message on August 30 which read, “No service in Yosemite,” but they doubt she wrote it, Stafford said.
When Blue was asked by CNN’s Randi Kaye whether he could say definitively Gabby Petito could not have sent a text August 30, Blue said he could not.
“It’s not like TV where they say, oh, they died on this date, it’s a very rough estimate,” he said. “And I know that law enforcement is using other methods to try to determine a more exact date, but from an autopsy point of view, it’s a very rough estimate.”
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 at the news conference.
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.
Stafford on Tuesday reiterated the family is not commenting right now.
“Gabby’s family is not making any statements until they bring Gabby home,” Stafford said. “I will let you know when that happens.”
The coroner said Petito’s remains were at a mortuary in Wyoming.
How we got here
The announcement of the autopsy results came 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 September 19 near where their van was last seen three weeks earlier. The national focus on her whereabouts revealed 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, the coroner 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.”
Blue told CNN the domestic violence comment was “strictly an assumption.”
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 Laundrie had used a debit card which 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 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.
CNN’s Rebekah Riess, Rob Frehse, Jennifer Henderson, Christina Maxouris, Kari Pricher, Leyla Santiago, Jenn Selva, Amir Vera and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.