What to Know
- Gabby Petito's body was found in a remote area of a Wyoming park the couple visited last month; her death has been ruled a homicide, though exactly how she died was unknown until Tuesday
- The FBI's prime person of interest in Petito's disappearance, her fiance Brian Laundrie, has now been missing for more than a month; he vanished nearly a week before Petito's body was discovered
- Laundrie has an outstanding warrant out for him for alleged debit card fraud. His family's attorney on Tuesday called Petito's death a tragedy and said the fraud charge would be addressed when he's found
Gabby Petito's mother had just a four-word comment in response to a statement released by the Laundrie family attorney shortly after the Wyoming county coroner who ruled her daughter's death a homicide shared chilling autopsy details Tuesday.
"His words are garbage," Nichole Schmidt texted a reporter.
Her concise retort came hours after Steve Bertolino, who represents the family of Petito's former fiancé Brian Laundrie, a man for whom a national manhunt is now in its fifth week, released a statement calling the death of the young woman a tragedy.
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"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," Bertolino continued. "At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the pending fraud charge against him."
Investigators haven't said whose debit card Laundrie is accused of fraudulently using, but the federal arrest warrant for him on that single count was issued weeks ago. While not an overly significant criminal allegation in relation to Petito's case, it allows law enforcement to hold him for a period of time if they can find him.
The FBI could potentially look to broaden charges if they believe Laundrie to be responsible for Petitio's homicide or issue a new warrant for someone else based on the chilling findings Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue shared a day ago.
More on the Gabby Petito Case
Blue said Petito died by manual strangulation, meaning someone killed her with their bare hands, and she likely died three to four weeks before her body was found in mid-September in a remote area of the Wyoming park she and Laundrie visited.
Blue said DNA was recovered from Petito's body but he didn't say whether it belonged to her or someone else. He described her remains as having been "out in the wilderness" for a number of weeks but referred questions on whether the body was buried to the FBI, which had no immediate comment on the developments.
The strangulation determination was made last week, on Oct. 5, Blue said, but said the announcement was held for a week because they were "waiting for a final review by the FBI and U.S. Attorney as well as notification of the family."
The coroner also said that the autopsy was exhaustive, included a whole-body CAT scan, examinations from a forensic pathologist and a forensic anthropologist, as well as a toxicology evaluation.
Blue declined to release additional details on the autopsy, citing state protocol, but the findings he did share are of critical importance to investigators and could alter the approach of a potential criminal case as the FBI continues to hunt Laundrie, who has been missing for more than four weeks.
Petito's body was found on Sept. 19 near Grand Teton National Park, which she and Laundrie visited. The timeframe around which Blue believes she died puts her death near Aug. 27, which is about the date officials say her cellphone was turned off. The last time her mother had spoken with her was two days prior to that.
It took only a few days for the coroner's office to confirm the remains found belonged to Petito and to determine that she had been killed by another person, but the precise cause of death required a few weeks of additional forensic study.
"We were very exact in our examination and the detail by which the examination was done," Blue said by way of explanation for the length of time it took to share the brief details he released Tuesday. "We were waiting for various specialists to come in and help with the investigation, waiting on toxicology to be returned, and it was just a matter of making sure we had everything right."
Petito's mother and stepfather, who sources said were made aware of the autopsy results, visited the Long Island memorial to their daughter in Blue Point after the details were released, but did not speak to reporters. On Wednesday, a family representative confirmed that the parents traveled to Wyoming to claim the remains and bring them back to New York.
Thus far, the FBI has only named Laundrie a person of interest, and their only person of interest, in Petito's disappearance. No persons of interest have been named in connection with her death. Laundrie, 23, vanished more than four weeks ago after allegedly telling his parents he was going for a hike in a Florida preserve.
His disappearance came about five days before Petito's body was discovered and about three or four days -- his parents have changed their timeline amid ongoing questions by investigators -- after Petito's mother reported her missing on Sept. 11.
Through Bertolino, Laundrie's parents have consistently called any speculation they may have helped their son evade law enforcement "just wrong."
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The FBI continues to solicit tips by phone and online regarding the potential whereabouts of Laundrie or any other details on the couple.