Gabby Petito died by strangulation, a coroner revealed on Tuesday, as a manhunt ensues for her missing fiancé, Brian Laundrie, whom police have deemed as a person of interest in the case.
Petito, 22, died three to four weeks before her body was found on September 19th near an undeveloped camping area along the border of Grand Teton National Park in remote northern Wyoming, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said in a news conference.
It wasn’t clear if the determination might lead to additional charges against Laundrie.
Petito disappeared while on a cross-country road trip with Laundrie, who is now being sought by authorities in Florida.
She was reported missing Sept. 11 by her parents after she did not respond to calls and texts for several days while the couple visited parks in the West.
Investigators have relentlessly searched a 24,000-acre (9,700-hectare) Florida nature preserve without success. They focused on the area after Laundrie’s parents told police he may have gone there.
Authorities are using helicopters, drones, dogs and officers in all-terrain vehicles in their search for Laundrie. About 75 per cent of the search area is underwater.
Laundrie and Petito had been living with his parents at the North Port home in Florida before the road trip on which she died.
The young couple had set out in July in a converted van to visit national parks in the West. They got into a fight along the way, and Laundrie was alone when he returned in the van to his parents’ home on Sept. 1st, police said.
Petito’s case has led to renewed calls for people to pay greater attention to cases involving missing Indigenous women and other people of colour, with some commentators describing the intense coverage of her disappearance as “missing white woman syndrome.”
The search for Laundrie has generated a frenzy, with TV personalities like Duane Chapman – known as Dog the Bounty Hunter – and longtime “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh working to track him down.
Petito and Laundrie posted online about their trip in a white Ford Transit van converted into a camper. They got into a physical altercation on Aug. 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop, which ended with police deciding to separate the quarrelling couple for the night.
No charges were filed, and no serious injuries were reported.
Federal officials in Wyoming last month charged Laundrie with unauthorized use of a debit card, alleging he used a Capital One Bankcard and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorized withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing. They did not say to whom the card belonged.
In Florida, FBI-led search teams have been looking in a vast nature preserve for any sign of Laundrie. Weeks of searching in the swampy Carlton Reserve south of Sarasota – where Laundrie’s parents say he went after returning home from the West – have turned up nothing.
Laundrie’s family lawyer Steve Bertolino said in an email there was “nothing new” in the search.