QUESTIONS continue to linger in the murder case of slain vlogger Gabby Petito who was found dead at a campsite in Wyoming nearly one month ago.
Last week, coroners in Teton County confirmed the 22-year-old from Long Island was choked to death by "human force" and had likely been dead for between three to four weeks when her remains were found on September 19.
However, there is still so much that is not known about what happened to Gabby and why.
The most pressing of those unanswered questions is who is responsible for her death.
Gabby's fiancé Brian Laundrie, with who she'd been on a cross-country road trip at the time of her killing, is not currently considered a suspect.
He is, however, the sole person of interest in the case and is currently wanted for fraud after allegedly racking up charges of more than $1000 on a credit card belonging to Gabby in late August – after she's believed to have been killed.
Laundrie has been on the run for more than a month now. He vanished around September 13 after reportedly telling his parents he was going hiking in a nearby reserve but never returned.
While an investigation continues, investigative reporter Pei-Sze Cheng and Professor Joseph Scott Morgan, a forensic expert and former medical examiner teaching at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, pointed to crucial details shared in Gabby's autopsy report that may provide at least some answers about what happened to her in a new podcast.
Read our Gabby Petito live blog for the very latest news and updates…
Last Tuesday, Teton County Medical Examiner Dr. Brent Blue revealed in a press conference that the cause of Gabby's death was "asphyxia."
The ruling came nearly a month after coroners wrote in a preliminary examination that Gabby's manner of death was a homicide.
"The day that they did this autopsy, they couldn't get out the door quick enough that afternoon to give us the manner of death," Morgan said on the latest episode of The Debrief. "There's five manners of death. And when they shot out of there, they specifically said, "This is a homicide.
"That's very powerful … To rule something as a homicide — and the purest definition literally means "death at the hands of another" — they saw something so glaring. Even though Gabby had been down three to four weeks, they were able that afternoon with no further testing to say, 'this is a homicide.'"
While Dr. Blue's initial remarks lacked specificity, he later appeared on CNNand elaborated on Gabby's cause of death, insisting she had been killed by "strangulation via a throttling."
Morgan said Brent's comments are significant, as "that really narrows the field down because throttling is so very specific.
"He went to great lengths to even say that this was not mechanical, which essentially means that there wasn't a ligature involved," Morgan said. "When they say throttling, they're talking about the application of two hands on this young woman's throat."
Morgan called the manner of death "intimate", adding that throttling can either happen anteriorly — from the front — or posteriorly — from behind, and is often driven by a component of passion.
"We think about movies where some stranger walks up and they choke someone. But this isn't the movies," Morgan said. "My opinion is that this is a face-to-face event.
"This is very intimate. Anytime you have an asphyxial death, it's one of the most horrific things that can happen because there's literally less than a foot of clearance between the perpetrator.
"He would have looked her in the eye and as he's literally squeezing the life out of her. So the bigger question is, and we don't have an answer to this yet. What exactly did [the coroners] see specifically?"
The DeBrief podcast obtained a document via a Freedom of Information Law request from the Teton County Coroner's Office that confirmed Gabby's death as "manual strangulation/throttling."
CAT SCAN AND EXPERTS
It also revealed that Dr. Blue had conducted a full-body CAT scan on Gabby's remains rather than a typical X-Ray. CAT scans offer a 3D view of a subject's organs, whereas an X-Ray provides only a 2D image.
"This is a powerful tool at trial," Morgan said. "One of the biggest things that happens with autopsy photography, for instance, is that the defense will say, 'this is too graphic. It's prejudicial. We can't show this to the jury.'"
"[But] There's nothing prejudicial about CT scans. It's not gory … it's demonstrative and that's very powerful."
Another unusual step Dr. Brent took in his examination of Gabby's remains was to consult an entomologist, which is a bug doctor, and a forensic anthropologist, who examines bones, to review the remains.
Both experts would've helped to determine how long Gabby's remains had been out in the Wyoming wilderness before they were found by investigators.
"It's a real full court press that they're putting on," Morgan said. "And at the end of the day, I can tell you they are going to have a boatload of evidence that will be tied up in a very neat package."
While fielding questions from reports on Tuesday, Dr. Blue said that coroners had recovered DNA from Gabby's body.
DNA can be critically important in investigations such as these, especially where defensive strikes are wounds are concerned. Often, DNA will be recovered from beneath the fingertips of a murder victim if they attempted to fight their attacker off.
While the nature of the DNA evidence recovered in Gabby's case is not clear, Morgan said that it's a "primal response to fight somebody off If you're being choked or being strangled."
"My thought is this," he said. "They have done nail scrapings and probably nail clippings. And if folks will essentially look down the long axis of their fingernail and you see how curved your fingernails are.
"Essentially when you scratch, that's not just passive DNA, we're not talking about sharing a space with somebody where his DNA gets on her and all that sort of thing. We're talking about curled-up skin, tissue, blood that's protected beneath the nail."
Morgan continued: "And that takes this up to another level. How's the defense explain that away? How can they actually say, 'for good reason, she would have his tissue beneath her fingernails.'"
One thing Morgan says he was taken aback by in Blue's press conference was that the doctor referred to Gabby as a victim of domestic violence.
While Brian hasn't been named as a suspect in the case, the pair were involved in a domestic violence disturbance on August 12 in Moab, Utah, just weeks before Gabby was killed.
Police spoke with the pair after receiving a 911 call that a man had been seen "slapping" a woman before they both got into a white van and drove away.
Gabby, in floods of tears, told the attending officers that Brian had hit her only after she had struck him first.
Laundrie, meanwhile, was seen smiling and laughing with the cops as he denied hitting her and instead claimed to have pushed her in a bid to fend her off while she attacked him.
Morgan's remarks came as he was discussing the "media circus" Gabby's death has become.
“Well, it was quite the media circus and continues to be,” Blue said. "Unfortunately, this is 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."
Morgan called Blue's comments "striking."
"He was so coy with everything else. You didn't expect that utterance to come from a coroner. It really gave an insight into his communication with anybody else that's involved in this case. Trust me, they've been talking," he said
Vlogger Gabby, 22, had been on an intrepid adventure of a lifetime as she drove across the country with Laundrie to tour the US national parks.
However, despite the couple's rosy projections on social media, the sunny facade of their relationship crumbled on September 1 when Brian returned home to Florida with Gabby, some two months earlier than planned.
After hiring a lawyer and refusing to talk, he then vanished too — just days before Gabby’s remains were found in Bridger–Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
The FBI has launched a nationwide manhunt, appealing for anyone with information about Laundrie's whereabouts to contact them.
A weeks-long search of the Carlton Reserve has so far yielded no trace of Laundrie. A second search at Fort De Soto Park being carried out by Dog the Bounty Hunter has so far proved equally as fruitless.
An investigation continues.
Gabby Petito timeline
Gabby Petito, 22, was last seen on August 24, leaving a hotel in Utah. Here is a timeline of Gabby Petito’s disappearance:
- June 2021 – Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie set off on a cross-country trip across the US.
- July 4 – Gabby posts photos of herself barefoot in Gove County, Kansas.
- July 8 – Gabby posts photos of herself at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.
- July 18 – Gabby and Brian post photos of themselves at Utah's Zion National Park.
- August 12 – Body camera footage was released in September showing an encounter Brian and Gabby had with police in Utah. Police confirmed that no significant injuries were reported.
- August 19 – Gabby and Brian post a video on their YouTube channel chronicling their trip.
- August 24 – Gabby is spotted leaving a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah.
- August 25 – Gabby Facetimes her mom, Nichole Schmidt, for the final time. In a later police report, Schmidt said her conversations with her daughter revealed "more and more tension" between her and Brian.
- August 25 – Gabby also posts her last Instagram. No location is given.
- August 27 – Gabby is seen for what's believed to be the final time. Witnesses claim they saw Brian in an explosive argument with staff at a restaurant in Jackson Hole, leaving Gabby in tears.
- August 27 – Four hours later, travel bloggers driving through Grand Teton National Park drive past the couple's van "abandoned" on a dirt road.
- September 1 – Brian returns home to Florida without Gabby.
- September 11 – Gabby's parents report her missing to Suffolk County police.
- September 14 – Brian's family issues a statement saying he has retained an attorney and will not be cooperating with investigators.
- September 14 – Brian is allegedly last seen by his family. He reportedly told them he was going hiking in Cartlon Reserve but failed to return.
- September 15 – Florida's North Port police announce Brian is a person of interest in the case. He is not charged with any crime.
- September 16 – Utah police release body camera footage of the police encounter with Brian and Gabby.
- September 17 – Brian's parents say they have not seen their son in a couple of days and report him missing.
- September 18 – Police announce they were searching Carlton Reserve in Florida for Brian. Police announce they have not found anything.
- September 19 – Authorities in Wyoming say they found a body in Grand Teton National Park. The FBI announces the body was believed to be Gabby's but a full forensic identification needs to be completed first to confirm.
- September 20 – Police execute a search warrant on Laundrie's home, seizing his silver Mustang and a hard drive that may contain "evidence relevant to proving that a felony has been committed."
- September 21 – Officials announce they will be conducting an autopsy on the remains found in Wyoming to confirm whether or not they belong to Gabby. Police also resumed their search for Laundrie, this time on the Venice side of Carlton Reserve.
- September 21 – The FBI announced the body found in Wyoming was identified as Gabby's. The cause of death was not yet revealed.
- September 21 – The Teton County Coroner's office said Gabby's official cause of death was still pending but the initial manner of death is homicide.
- September 22 – Police continue to scour Carlton Reserve for a trace of Laundrie but yield no leads. A specialist dive team is called in to assist with the hunt.
- September 23 – Officials announced a federal arrest warrant for Brian was issued.
- September 26 – Gabby's funeral was held on Long Island, New York.
- October 12: Gabby's autopsy results were made public. Teton County Coroner Dr Brent Blue confirmed Gabby died by strangulation.
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