Coroner Confirms Worst Fears: Van-Lifer Gabby Petito’s Death Was a Homicide

·3 min read

The Teton County coroner has ruled the death of Gabby Petito, the missing 22-year-old “van-life” YouTuber, a homicide.

Her body, found Sunday near Grand Teton National Park, was positively identified Tuesday by both her family and the county coroner. The park was the last place Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie were seen together before Laundrie returned to Florida alone in Petito’s white Ford van.

The Teton County coroner’s “initial determination for the manner of death is homicide,” according to the FBI. The coroner performed the autopsy Tuesday but has not yet determined the cause of death.

Rick Stafford, an attorney for the Petito-Schmidt family, said, “We will be making a statement when Gabby is home.” Her father Joseph Petito tweeted Sunday, “She touched the world.”

A massive search for the missing YouTuber had been underway since her family reported her missing on Sept. 11, 10 days after Laundrie returned alone from their cross-country trip and refused to speak to authorities. He and Petito documented their adventures in cheery “van-life” videos, but bodycam footage taken after a 911 call on Aug. 12 showed a darker reality, depicting the couple in the aftermath of a tense physical fight. No charges were filed.

Laundrie has since been named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance and death, and Florida police said for the first time Tuesday that their search for him was now part of a “criminal investigation.” He has, however, disappeared, and authorities have been combing the vast wilderness of Carlton Reserve near his home. His parents and attorney say they have not heard from him in nearly a week.

Petito’s mother Nicole Schmidt, who lives in Long Island, said she last spoke to her daughter on Aug. 25. Then, on Aug. 27, she received an eerie text from Petito’s phone which she does not think her daughter wrote.

On Tuesday, the FBI said it was seeking information from anyone who was around the Spread Creek camping area, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, between Aug. 27 and 30 and may have had contact with Petito or Laundrie, or may have seen their vehicle.

Those dates line up with an account given by graphic designer Jessica Schultz, who says she called the FBI in recent days after seeing a strange man driving a van alone and “acting weird” in the Spread Creek camping area on Aug. 26.

The man was driving the white van very slowly down a narrow road in the camping area, and “was very awkward and confused,” she said.

Schultz told the San Francisco Chronicle that she saw the van parked in the area for the next few days and nights with no “signs of actual life.”

The van was gone by Aug. 29, she said.

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