How did Gabby Petito die? Finding cause of death gets difficult as autopsy delayed

As full forensic examination remains pending, the internet is convinced of Brian Laundrie's involvement


                            How did Gabby Petito die? Finding cause of death gets difficult as autopsy delayed
Gabby Petito and her fiance Brian Laundrie (Instagram: @gabspetito)

The mysterious disappearance of Gabby Petito is finally reaching closure after remains “consistent with the description of” the van-life blogger were found at  Bridger Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

The FBI Denver, the National Park Service and law enforcement announced the discovery during a news conference on Sunday, September 19, at the Grand Teton National Park. As of now, there's no confirmation that the body discovered is Petito's but the police are confident about it.

However, forensic evaluation is still pending, which sparks curiosity surrounding how exactly Petito died.

Petito went missing from a cross-country road trip with her fiance Brian Laundrie, who returned home alone on September 1, with the van they were traveling in. Laundrie, who has been missing since Tuesday, September 14, immediately lawyered up after returning from their July-onward trip alone. Through his lawyer Steven Bertolino, he has refused to speak to the police or help with the investigation surrounding Petito's disappearance.

Last heard from on August 26, Petito's final text sent to her mother Nicole Schmidt has also been dubbed suspicious. Meanwhile, bodycam footage of cops responding to a domestic disturbance call, revealed Petito struggling with mental health, alleging that she and her fiance had been fighting a lot but neither wanted to press charges. This, along with Laundrie's silence, has put him under immense scrutiny.

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How did Gabby Petito die?

Considering that a full forensic examination of Petito's alleged remains is yet to be completed, the cause of her death is still undetermined. Forensic scientists and medical examiners will likely struggle to establish the exact time and cause depending on how long the body was exposed to the elements. Forensic scientist and professor Lawrence Kobilinsky told The Daily Beast: "We don’t know when she died. But we do know that she’s in an environment that’s very hot. You can get decomposition in a matter of a week.” He further added: "It leaves you wondering what the state of the body is. If it is Gabby, and if she’s been deceased since around August 24, the body could be in really bad shape.”

Wisconsin-based consulting forensic pathologist Lindsey Thomas claims loss of skin tissue ends up making it difficult to spot "key bruisings, lacerations, and tears". Potential animal activity can also lead to "significant damage to bones and organs," reports the outlet. “It’s one thing if it’s a gunshot wound, and they find a bullet,” she said. “If it’s anything else, and they just have skeletal remains, then they may ultimately never know.” However, height, weight, eye color, and hair color can still be used to determine the identity, although that depends on the state of the body. One telling sign would be a tattoo that Petito had on her forearm, which read "let it be."

Gabby Petito (@gabbypetito/Instagram)

Gabby Petito cause of death

Dr Mecki Prinz, forensic DNA analysis expert and professor also shared with the outlet how “dental records would be the fastest way to ID a body. Without a doubt. DNA would be an option, too.”

However, the coroner will have to undertake the difficult job of determining cause of death, after making a call from five categories: homicide, accident, suicide, natural causes, or undetermined. “The likelihood is high that he’ll declare it a homicide,” Kobilinsky said. “This is a healthy 22-year-old that went missing under mysterious circumstances.”

Even if remains are mostly skeletal, cause of death can also be determined by looking for an impression in the skull that would indicate blunt force trauma, the outlet adds. Fracturing of the hyoid bone in the neck would indicate manual strangulation, they add. But “this will be a team effort, no matter what,” said Thomas. Forensic anthropologists, entomologists, and radiologists are all expected to aid in the postmortem process. Evidence gathered from the white van Petito and Laundrie were traveling in, from the scene of death, as well as from the couple's devices will also help investigators determine how and when Petito died, the outlet says.

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito (Instagram/ @bizarre_design_)

Meanwhile, Laundrie remains AWOL after leaving his Florida home for a nature preserve with officers managing no sighting of him in a two-day search. But should he return and claim Petito's death was an accident, that's something “the coroner will have to weigh,” Kobilinsky says. “We simply don’t have all the facts yet,” he added. “In fact, nobody has declared yet this is definitely Gabby—although, you know, I think people are thinking it’s 99.9 percent [her]. But you have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. And the only way you can do that is with an absolute positive identification.”

True crime fanatics and internet slueths have also shared their two cents on how exactly Petito could have died. Laundrie is already facing a trial by media with Twitter convinced he had something to do in Petito's death. "Even if he didn’t kill her, it is undisputed that Brian Laundrie left Gabby Petito to die, which should be treated equivalently in this situation. How he was not under surveillance or in custody is beyond me," one user tweeted. One more suggested, "Her heart probably stopped?" Several were of the opinion, "Ask the fiancée"