WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A body found in a United States national park in Wyoming has been identified as Ms Gabby Petito, a young woman who went missing during a road trip with her fiance, and her death has been ruled a homicide, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said on Tuesday (Sept 21).
The confirmation is the latest turn in a story that has gripped Americans since Ms Petito's family reported the 22-year-old missing on Sept 11 - 10 days after her 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.
Ms Petito’s body was discovered on Sunday in a remote area of Bridger-Teton National Forest, in western Wyoming, less than 300m 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.
Mr 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, Mr Laundrie had refused to speak with investigators and retained a lawyer.
Fiance still missing
Mr 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 (9,700ha) Carlton Reserve wilderness area. The North Port police said they learned from Mr Laundrie’s family only on Friday that he had been missing for three days.
The 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.
Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie left her home state of New York in late June or early July, heading west in her van with plans to visit US national parks and document the trip on social media.
Witnesses last saw Ms 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. Ms 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 Ms Petito to her mother, Nicole Schmidt, which describes getting repeated calls and voice messages from “Stan”, Ms 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. Ms 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 Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie during a traffic stop.
Ms Petito sobs in the video as she describes a quarrel with Mr Laundrie that she says became physical at times. The officers did not detain the couple but insisted they spend that night separately, Ms Petito in the van and Mr Laundrie at a hotel.