By Dan Whitcomb
A body found in a U.S. national park in Wyoming was identified as Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old “van life” traveler who went missing during a road trip with her fiance, the FBI said on Tuesday, adding a local coroner had ruled her death a homicide.
The confirmation is the latest turn in a story that has gripped Americans since the Blue Point native’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11. Ten days earlier the fiance, Brian Laundrie, returned home from the cross-country trip without her.
“Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue confirmed the remains are those of Gabrielle Venora Petito, date of birth March 19, 1999,” the Denver office of the FBI said in a written statement.
“Coroner Blue’s initial determination for the manner of death is homicide. The cause of death remains pending final autopsy results,” the FBI said.
Petito’s body was discovered on Sunday in a remote area of Bridger-Teton National Forest, in western Wyoming, less than 1,000 feet from where a pair of travel bloggers filmed what appeared to be the couple’s white van parked along a dirt road near Spread Creek on the evening of Aug. 27.
“The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms. Petito’s death is held accountable for their actions,” FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said in the statement.
Laundrie returned home to North Port, Florida, alone in the van on Sept. 1. Ten days later members of Petito’s family reported her missing. Before disappearing, Laundrie had refused to speak with investigators and retained a lawyer.
FIANCE STILL MISSING
Laundrie’s parents told FBI agents they last saw him a week ago, when he told them he was planning to hike alone in the nearby 24,000-acre Carlton Reserve wilderness area. North Port police said they learned from Laundrie’s family only on Friday that he had been missing for three days.
Police and FBI agents resumed their search of the swampy reserve on Tuesday, using helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, but called it off for the day as darkness fell. A North Port police spokesman said that effort would resume on Wednesday.
Petito and Laundrie left her home state of New York in late June or early July, heading west in her van with plans to visit U.S. national parks and document the trip on social media.
Witnesses last saw Petito on Aug. 24 as she left a Salt Lake City hotel. She posted her final photo of the trip on social media the next day. Petito’s family believes she was headed to Grand Teton National Park when they last heard from her.
Investigators spent much of Monday searching the Laundrie family home. They were seen loading cardboard boxes into a van and towing away a silver Ford Mustang.
In seeking search warrants, investigators have cited an Aug. 27 text purportedly sent by Petito to her mother, Nicole Schmidt, which describes getting repeated calls and voice messages from “Stan”, Petito’s grandfather.
Schmidt told investigators that message was odd because the young woman would not usually refer to her grandfather by his first name. Petito’s family has said a second text message also seemed suspicious.
Last week, police in Moab, Utah, released body camera footage of an Aug. 12 encounter that two of their officers had with Petito and Laundrie during a traffic stop.
Petito sobs in the video as she describes a quarrel with Laundrie that she says became physical at times. The officers did not detain the couple but insisted they spend that night separately, Petito in the van and Laundrie at a hotel.