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Gabby Petito: Autopsy rules homicide as FBI shamed by boyfriend’s disappearance and success of TikTok sleuths

·5 min read
Gabby Petito’s remains were found in the he Bridger-Teton National Forest on Sunday (Petito family)
Gabby Petito’s remains were found in the he Bridger-Teton National Forest on Sunday (Petito family)

It was the news nobody wanted to hear, but which most most had probably been expecting.

The FBI announced that the remains found at the weekend at a campsite north of Jackson, Wyoming, were indeed those of Gabby Petito, and that the coroner believed her death was a homicide - namely that she had been killed by another person.

After an autopsy lasting several hours, and in which a forensic pathologist assisted the examination led by Teton County coroner Brent Blue, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said further tests could be continued to try and determine the precise cause of death of the missing 22-year-old.

The announcement immediately heightened expectations that police or the FBI may now announce charges.

Ms Petito’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, currently being searched for by police in Florida, has been described as a “person of interest”.

And in its announcement about Ms Petito on Tuesday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said the agency was determined to ensure anyone “responsible for, or complicit in her death” would he “held accountable” for their actions.

“The FBI’s commitment to justice is at the forefront of each and every investigation,” he added.

Richard Stafford, a lawyer for the family of Ms Petito, thanked the media “for giving the Petito and Schmidt family time to grieve”

“We will be making a statement when Gabby is home,” said Mr Stafford.

Ms Petito, originally from Long Island, New York, was reported missing by her family ten days ago, after she failed to return from a a cross country trip with Mr Laundrie, visiting some of the nation’s national parks.

On Sunday, when authorities announced they believed the remains found at the spread creek campsite were those of the young woman, her father, Joseph Petito wrote on Twitter: “#GABBYPETITO she touched the world.”

The story of the search for the missing young woman, who had posted updates of her travels on a YouTube channel gripped the nation, and dominated much media coverage.

Some commentators pointed out, correctly, that stories of missing Black, Latino or Indigenous women never receive such coverage.

Alongside that, the simple question of what had happened to her, was one that many wanted to try and help answer.

Indeed, the FBI thanked members of the public, including other campers, who had passed on tips or information. And they urged the public to continue to do so.

Among those who posted such information was Miranda Baker, who said she and her boyfriend gave a ride to Mr Laundrie, who at that point was traveling by himself on August 29.

“He approached us asking us for a ride because he needed to go to Jackson, [and] we were going to Jackson that night,” Ms Baker said on a series of TikTok videos.

“So I said ‘You know, hop in’, and he hopped in the back of my Jeep, we then proceeded to make small talk, but before he came in the car he offered to pay us like $200, to give him a ride, like 10 miles,” she said.

She added: “So that was kind of weird. He then told us he’s been camping for multiple days without his fiancé, he did say he had a fiancé, and that she was working on their social media page back at their van.”

Another couple, Brian and Jenn and Bethune, who transformed a 1983 sliver eagle bus, and post video updates at their page Red White & Bethune, posted video showing that the white Ford Transit van used by Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie was parked in the spread creek campsite on 27 August.

Mr Bethune, who comes from Tampa, said the van appeared “abandoned”, when the couple posted the video on Saturday night.

“We figured maybe they were out hiking or they were just chilling inside there was no doors open, you know. You know, a Florida plate, on the other side of the country, is not something we see all the time,” he said.

On Sunday, when he announced that remains had been found at the campsite and were believed to be those of the missing young woman, FBI senior advisory agent Charles Jones was asked how important information from the public had been. He said: “It was vital”.

The effort to try and locate her played out against the massive, dramatic backdrop of the Grand Teton National Park, filled with snow covered mountains, and heather and brush that fills a full 480-square miles.

Ben Cole, has been coming to the park for 30 years, and on Saturday he was sitting close to the public showers at Colter Bay Village, from where Mr Laundrie is believed to have hitch-hiked a ride on August 29, told The Independent: “Out here, it’s a vast land.”

On Tuesday, police in North Port, Florida, said investigators had returned to the Carlton Reserve to look for the 23-year-old Mr Laundrie.

A cross is now located close to where Gabby Petito’s remains were found (Andrew Buncombe)
A cross is now located close to where Gabby Petito’s remains were found (Andrew Buncombe)

The Associated Press said teams searched the 24,000-acre Florida nature preserve over the weekend without success. They focused on the area after Mr Laundrie’s parents told police he may have gone there.

The FBI has not said what led them to the spread creek dispersed camp site in Wyoming with dozens of agents, park rangers and dogs to start their search at 6.30am on Saturday, several hours before the Bethunes posted their video.

There has been speculation that they received information, either in the form of a note left by Mr Laundrie or information passed on to his parents, when officers visited the parents home last Friday evening, 12 hours before the search got underway.

Spread creek campsite was one of several campsites Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie had used. Her remains were found at a location, perhaps four miles from the nearest highway, US Route 191, on Sunday morning.

On Tuesday, the campsite was reopened and journalists stumbled across a makeshift cross made of pebbles, in a river bed close to where Ms Petito’s remains were found.

It it not known whether it was created by a member of the search team, or a member of the public.

There has also been speculation it could have been left by Mr Laundrie.

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