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Gabby Petito Died By Strangulation, Wyoming Coroner Finds

BLUE POINT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A Wyoming coroner said Tuesday the results of Gabby Petito's autopsy find that she died by strangulation.

Weeks ago, we learned the manner of death: homicide. And now we know the cause of death, the specific injury that caused Petito's death. It's a finding that amplifies a tragedy that's being followed around the world, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

"In the manner of death of Gabrielle Petito, we find the cause and manner of the cause death by strangulation and the manner is homicide," Teton County, Wyoming coroner Dr. Brent Blue said.

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Blue said Wyoming law prohibits him from detailing her injures, but 22-year-old Petito was manually strangled. Her body was in the wilderness for three to four weeks before it was found. Blue would not say if she was buried, or speculate on who killed her.

"Who committed the homicide is up to law enforcement," Blue said.

He gave out little information but, responding to a question, did reveal Petito was not pregnant.

Blue also wouldn't say what led him to his findings.

"Nothing is obvious in a situation like this, so detailed analysis was used to determine manner and cause of death," he said.

Watch Carolyn Gusoff's report -- 

Forensic experts say the manner of death suggests a crime of passion.

"It's a very close-in way of killing somebody. It's not like shooting somebody from a distance. This is very personal, and it does tell a story about anger and hostility," said Lawrence Kobilinski, a forensic scientist with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The finding sheds more light on a mystery that's gripped the public, beginning with Petito's disappearance.

READ MOREAttorney: Gabby Petito's Fiancé, Brian Laundrie, Flew Home After Moab, Utah Police Encounter

Petito, who was called a free spirit by many, was on a cross country van adventure with fiancé Brian Laundrie when she disappeared. Laundrie returned to their home in Florida without her and then went missing, himself.

Their public image was undercut by fights reported by witnesses, including tensions documented during a police stop in Utah.

Laundrie is now a fugitive and the exhaustive search for him has continued for weeks.

The coroner's finding doesn't solve the murder. Physical evidence will also be key. But retired NYPD Homicide Sgt. Bill Cannon said murder convictions can be won on circumstantial evidence.

"For someone that was engaged to someone who he supposedly loves, drives home with her van, then lawyers up and then goes on a camping trip, and then disappears, all of that is what we call circumstantial evidence, but very, very strong," Cannon said.

The coroner says DNA samples were taken, but just finding Laundrie's DNA wouldn't necessarily prove anything.

"However, if we now know that she was manually strangled, then finding his DNA or trace evidence where pressure was exerted by the hands and fingers on the neck, that would be very revealing and that could be used in court to make the case," Kobilinski told CBS2's Dick Brennan.

Will Laundrie now face murder charges? The FBI is not commenting.

READ MOREBrian Laundrie Went Camping With Parents After Returning Home Without Fiancée Gabby Petito

Laundrie's attorney, Steven Bertolino, reiterated he is only considered a person of interest.

"Gabby Petito's death at such a young age is a tragedy. While Brian Laundrie is currently charged with the unauthorized use of a debit card belonging to Gabby, Brian is only considered a person of interest in relation to Gabby Petito's demise. At this time, Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the pending fraud charge against him," Bertolino said in a statement.

In Petito's hometown of Blue Point on Long Island, her parents spent tearful moments at a growing memorial as the autopsy was made public.

Petito's mother responded to Bertolino's statement on Twitter, saying, "His words are garbage."

READ MORE'She's With Us': Gabby Petito's Family Speaks Out As Brian Laundrie Remains At Large

And while the coroner won't publicly speculate, he added, "Unfortunately, this is only 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."

Meanwhile, Petito's family is focused on helping to support families of other missing people who don't get this sort of attention. This Sunday, the Blue Point Fire Department will host a benefit for the Gabby Petito Foundation.

CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff contributed to this report. This story originally appeared on Oct. 12, 2021. 

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