A 22-year-old “van life” blogger who went missing on a road trip with her fiancé was strangled to death, a Wyoming coroner has ruled.
Gabby Petito had been dead for several weeks when her body was found last month near a national park the couple had visited, coroner Brent Blue said.
Ms Petito’s fiancé Brian Laundrie is a person of interest in the case but has been missing since mid-September.
The plight of the travel influencer captured global attention.
She had been documenting their nomadic “van life” trip through national parks in the American West on social media.
Her disappearance also triggered a debate over the amount of attention accorded to missing white women.
On Tuesday, Dr Blue told a news conference that Ms Petito’s body was found in a campsite with signs of strangulation.
Her body had been “outside in the wilderness for three to four weeks” before she was discovered on 20 September, the coroner said.
He would not confirm if an item was used to kill her. He did not disclose details of her toxicology report, but did say that Ms Petito was not pregnant at the time of her death.
The Teton County coroner’s ruling follows an initial post-mortem in September in which he had called the death a homicide, meaning it had been caused by another person.
Officials are in contact with Ms Petito’s family about transferring her remains.
“Unfortunately, this is only one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence and it’s unfortunate that these other deaths do not get as much coverage as this one,” Dr Blue added.
He said the area was experiencing a “media circus”. The case has also captivated amateur detectives, from TikTok sleuths to TV personalities.
According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, nearly 90,000 missing persons cases were actively ongoing at the end of 2020, though few receive national attention, let alone international coverage.
Who is Gabby Petito?
In July, Ms Petito set off on a road trip from her hometown in Long Island, New York, with Mr Laundrie. Both had been documenting the trip on social media.
The couple had been travelling for several weeks before Mr Laundrie returned home to Florida alone with their white van on 1 September. He did not contact police or the Petito family on his return.
Weeks earlier, on 12 August, police in the southern Utah town of Moab were called to a possible domestic violence incident involving the couple.
Ms Petito’s family reported her missing on 11 September.
Where is Brian Laundrie?
Mr Laundrie, currently the only person of interest in this case, remains missing. His parents say he left for a hike on 14 September and never came back.
He has not been charged with crimes relating to Ms Petito’s killing, however the FBI has issued a federal arrest warrant and charged him with fraudulently using her debit card after her death.
Police and FBI teams are scouring the Carlton Reserve, a 24,000-acre county park in Florida’s Sarasota County with police dogs, drones, and all-terrain vehicles.
On Tuesday, the Laundrie family’s lawyer Steve Bertolino said that the allegations should not link him to her death.
“Brian is only considered a person of interest in relation to Gabby Petito’s demise,” he said in a statement to US media.
“At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the pending fraud charge against him.”