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Gabby Petito's autopsy will likely show 'visible signs of trauma from attack’: Expert

'The death was referred to as a homicide very quickly after her body was found,' Jennifer Shen said
Gabby Petito was found dead on September 19 while her boyfriend has been missing since September 14 (Twitter and Instagram)
Gabby Petito was found dead on September 19 while her boyfriend has been missing since September 14 (Twitter and Instagram)

Florida vlogger Gabby Petito's body could have "visible signs of trauma from attack" after her death was quickly ruled a homicide, according to an expert. The 22-year-old's body has still not been released by investigators, her stepfather, Jim Schmidt, revealed in a press conference this week, even as her funeral was held in New York.

More than a week after she was reported missing, following the return of her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie alone from a cross-country trip that they had taken together, Petito was found dead at the Spread Creek Dispersed Campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forrest on Sunday, September 19 in Wyoming. Teton County Coroner Dr Brent Blue confirmed the vlogger's death was a homicide but the immediate cause of death is still unclear as police are still waiting for the final autopsy results.


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'There was visible trauma'


Speaking to the Sun, Jennifer Shen, retired San Diego Police Department Crime Laboratory Director, opened up about why her autopsy results are taking so long to be released. "The death was referred to as a homicide very quickly after her body was found," she said. "This generally indicates the cause of death was pretty apparent to those that found her. I would assume there was visible trauma consistent with some kind of attack (i.e. gunshot wounds, knife wounds, obvious signs of strangulation etc.). The official cause of death and the autopsy report will likely take weeks to release. There are many in-depth toxicological tests that are completed to be thorough and to provide any and all information her body has to offer."

Petito's stepfather said in a press conference recently: "Part of our goal was we wanted to bring her home as quickly as possible, but it's important for the FBI, the Teton County sheriff's, the Teton County coroner's office to hold onto her for as long as they need. We want to make sure that no matter what we do not impede their investigation in any way. We wanted her home immediately, but we understand their position and we know that she's safe with them and as long as she’s with them. It was a very tough decision to have to make, to come home, but we felt it was important to come home so we could mourn her and celebrate her life and be with our family and friends. When they're ready to release her, we will be bringing her home."

Significance of a recovered murder weapon


Meanwhile, Laundrie has been missing for more than a week and he is being hunted by the FBI after a warrant was issued for his arrest. Laundrie is accused of swiping a Capital One debit card, believed to belong to Petito, and running up a balance of $1,000 from August 31 until September 1. No details of any murder weapon have been released by investigators and Laundrie has not been named the suspect in the case, only the "person of interest."

Shen, a forensic scientist who has 29 years of experience in the field, said: "If an identifiable weapon was used, the forensic investigators would be trying to connect it to the murderer and the body. This could be done in a variety of ways. First, it would be important to show the wounds were consistent with the recovered weapon. If the weapon was a gun, they would attempt to match it to any bullets/cartridge casings found at the scene, or in her body. The gun could be traced to see where it came from, and its transactional history.  In addition, physical evidence such as blood, touch DNA, prints, or trace evidence could tie the gun to the scene, or to the killer." 


She added: "A knife or other weapon would yield much of the same evidence.  Finding clothing fibers, hair, blood, trace evidence from the body on the knife would tie it to Gabby’s body. Fingerprints, trace evidence, touch DNA and sometimes even blood (often suspects cut themselves in a knife attack) could tie the knife to Brian. An effort would also be made to track the origin of the weapon through receipts, manufacturer, etc., to see if it can be connected to the killer in that way as well."

Dog The Bounty Hunter has also launched his own search for Laundrie, claiming to have received more than 1,000 leads. "As the investigation continues, and detectives talk to more people, get more information from downloaded phones, computers, GPS devices on vehicles, etc," Shen told The Sun. "The investigation is more focused and data-driven. This will continue until every lead is exhausted, or until they find Brian. If they never find him, this will become a cold case that will likely never be solved to everyone's satisfaction. That would be very sad."