Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announced in a Tuesday afternoon press conference that Gabby Petito's cause of death was manual strangulation/throttling and ruled the manner of death a homicide.
Dr. Blue said because of Wyoming law, only the cause and manner of death would be released by the state, not full autopsy results. Blue didn't say it was manual strangulation during his press conference, but a document from the coroner's office obtained by ABC Action News confirmed it was manual strangulation/throttling, which is strangulation with hands, fingers, or other extremities.
In a question and answer session, Dr. Blue estimated the time of death would be roughly 3-4 weeks prior to Petito's remains being discovered. Blue said he would not make any comments on any part of the investigation or any possible suspects.
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Blue told reporters the length of time for the autopsy was due to his office waiting on toxicology reports and "making sure we had everything right." The autopsy included a full-body CAT scan, examination by a forensic pathologist and a forensic anthropologist along with a toxicology examination, Blue said.
According to Blue, DNA samples were taken by law enforcement from Gabby's body and she was not pregnant at the time of death.
Dr. Blue said that no death certificate has been completed yet and that Wyoming law allows an approximate date of death, so a firm date was not likely to be established on the death certificate. The coroner said Petito's body has been released to a local mortuary and they are working with Gabby's family to determine the next steps.
Reporter Heather Leigh asked, “if you could just explain the process and why it took a month?”
Dr. Blue responded, “The main reason is we were very exact in our examination and the detail of which that examination was done. We were waiting for various specialists to come in and help us with this investigation, we were waiting on toxicology to be returned.”
Shortly after the announcement from the Teton County Coroner, the family of Brian Laundrie, Gabby's fiance' and a person of interest in the case, released this statement.
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 pending fraud charge against him."
Florida Gulf Coast University Professor and forensics expert Dr. Dave Thomas says Petito's manner of death provides a window into the mind of whoever strangled her.
"It's, it's angry," he said. "To not be able to recognize that you're hurting someone and have the ability to stop, means that you're in a whole different type of zone, stratosphere when it comes to that type of focus."
It's a death that retired FBI Special Agent Brian Kensel describes as "up close." He adds that it likely happened quickly.
"Usually, 10 minutes or so is usually the rule of thumb for a brain without oxygen to succumb," Kensel said.
He also says that the close nature could provide clues for investigators.
"Presumably if you're being strangled you're putting up some kind of fight against whoever is doing it which means you may scratch somebody and come up with some of their DNA under your fingernails," Kensel said.
But there's a catch because Petito wasn't found for three to four weeks, there's also a chance that this valuable evidence may be gone.
"Those may have been lost because of the elements and because of the animals. And so that's the other part that we just don't know," Thomas said.