The Teton County coroner said that Gabby Petito died by "manual strangulation/throttling." Dr. Brent Blue said that DNA samples were taken by law enforcement, and Petito's body was in the wilderness for three to four weeks. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: James Carbone; YouTube/Nomadic Statik; Utah police video

Gabrielle Petito, the Blue Point native whose abrupt disappearance sparked a desperate search until authorities found her body in a Wyoming national forest last month, died by manual strangulation, autopsy results released Tuesday show.

Dr. Brent Blue, the coroner in Teton County, Wyoming, said during a virtual news conference that his office ruled Petito’s cause of death as strangulation and the manner of death a homicide.

Blue declined to discuss the specific way Petito was strangled, but in a one-page document signed by Blue and filed Oct. 5 in district court in Teton County, Blue listed the cause of death as "manual strangulation/throttling." Manual strangulation refers to the compression of the neck using one or both hands or a knee or forearm.

What to know

  • Gabby Petito died by “manual strangulation/throttling,”  a coroner in Wyoming has ruled.
  • Teton County Coroner Brent Blue said his office estimated Petito died three to four weeks before her body was found in a national forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19.
  • Blue declined to describe Petito’s injuries or the condition of her body, but said forensics took DNA samples from the body. 

Blue estimated Petito, 22, died three to four weeks before her body was found Sept. 19 in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming following an extensive search.

Petito's then-fiance Brian Laundrie, who had traveled west with Petito in her van and is wanted on a federal arrest warrant related to bank card fraud, has been named by the FBI as a "person of interest" in Petito's homicide.

Petito's death certificate has not been completed, but will likely not have an exact date of death, Blue said.

"Our initial determination is the body was in the wilderness for 3 to 4 weeks," he said.

Blue said law enforcement took DNA samples from Petito's body and did not elaborate. Blue added that the FBI had sent materials to a forensic entomologist, a scientist who studies bugs.

Blue, citing Wyoming state law, said no other details about any injuries Petito suffered or the condition of her body could be released. Blue said the autopsy included a full-body CT scan or computed tomography scan, examinations by a forensic pathologist and a forensic anthropologist and a toxicology test.

Teton County Coroner Brent Blue discusses the cause of death...

Teton County Coroner Brent Blue discusses the cause of death of Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito at a news conference Tuesday. Credit: AP/Bradly J. Boner/Jackson Hole News & Guide/AP

"Nothing is obvious in a situation like this, so a detailed analysis was used both to determine manner and cause of death," said Blue. "I can't go into details on how we made those decisions."

The FBI, the agency leading the investigation in the case, did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.

The Petito family attorney also did not respond to a message seeking comment.

A handout photo made available in September by the North Port, Florida,...

A handout photo made available in September by the North Port, Florida, Police Department shows Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito. Credit: North Port Police Department/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Around the same time the autopsy results were publicly announced, Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, and her step-father, Jim Schmidt, visited a public memorial in honor of their daughter at the intersection of the Blue Point and Bayport communities.

The parents didn't comment but were seen viewing the outdoor display, which includes flowers, candles and rosary beads.

Petito and Laundrie left in her white van on a cross-country road trip in July, with planned stops at several national parks and a final stop in Portland, Oregon. They documented the trip with smiling photos on social media.

This police camera video provided by the Moab, Utah, Police...

This police camera video provided by the Moab, Utah, Police Department shows Gabby Petito talking to police on Aug. 12. Credit: AP

But the couple was the subject of a police investigation in Utah, where a witness told police he saw Laundrie slapping Petito on Aug. 12. Petito told police Laundrie grabbed her face, but that she had also slapped him, according to body camera footage of the police interview.

"He, like, grabbed my face … he, like, grabbed me, like with his nail, and I guess that’s why I definitely have a cut right here because I can feel it," Petito told police, according to the body camera video. "When I touch it, it burns."

Police did not file charges, but told the couple to spend the night apart. About five days later, Laundrie flew home alone to Florida, before returning by plane to Salt Lake City to rejoin Petito on their trip, his lawyer has said.

Petito stopped communicating with her family in late August, police have said, and Laundrie returned to his Florida home alone in Petito’s van on Sept. 1.

Laundrie, 23, refused to speak to investigators after Petito’s parents reported her missing on Sept. 11, and days later went missing himself after allegedly telling his parents he was going hiking in a wildlife reserve near his Florida home, according to police. Law enforcement has conducted several searches of the reserve, and has not located Laundrie.

In a statement Tuesday, Laundrie's attorney, Steven Bertolino, said: "Gabby Petito’s death at such a young age is a tragedy. 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 fraud charge pending against him."

With Cecilia Dowd

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