Gabby Petito autopsy: Strangulation can be precursor to homicide, domestic violence, experts say


NORTH PORT, Fla. – Strangulation can “very well” be a precursor to homicide, as it was in the case of deceased 22-year-old Gabby Petito, experts say.

Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue on Tuesday announced that Petito died from manual strangulation weeks after the FBI uncovered the 22-year-old’s remains at Bridger-Teton National Forest, north of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

“It is very important to understand that a non-fatal strangulation incident is an incident of an indicator that you are 750% more likely to die at the hands of that abuser,” Andrea Wyant, assistant director of Hope United Survivor Network, which helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault told Fox News Digital.

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Wyant added that controlling finances and isolating victims from friends and family are “considerable red flags” of a relationship moving in an unhealthy direction.

Mollie Weakland, special events and marketing coordinator of Hope United Survivor Network, said strangulation specifically is the “ultimate form of power and control” for perpetrators who can control a victim’s ability to breathe and, therefore, live.

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More than one in four women who identified themselves as being in abusive relationships said they had experienced non-fatal strangulation, according to a 2008 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). 

“Research has repeatedly demonstrated non-fatal strangulation and other forms of violence are important risk factors for homicide. This speaks to the importance of screen[ing] for non-fatal strangulation and other types of violence when assessing abused women in emergency settings,” Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, Harvard-trained clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University in New York City, said.

Gabby Petito (Instagram)

Strangulation can also leave more “minimal observable injury” compared to other forms of physical violence such as hitting with fists, Romanoff said, but strangulation can also “lead to significant physical and mental health consequences.”

“While strangulation is a relatively widespread form of violence toward women who experience violence in abusive relationships, it is important to recognize how it is a predictor for future lethal violence,” Romanoff explained.

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Lizbeth Meredith, a former domestic violence advocate and probation officer who now works as a domestic violence educator, similarly told Fox News that strangulation can “very well can be a precursor to homicide.”

Meredith, who is herself a victim of domestic violence and, specifically, strangulation, said the violent act “is considered to be a red flag of an extremely volatile abuser and now taken more seriously in the last years as it can very well end in homicide.”

“It is truly one of the most deadly forces of violence,” she said.

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Petito’s parents reported her missing eight days before her remains were discovered. The 22-year-old was traveling cross-country in a Ford transit van with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, when she went missing.

Before her disappearance, Petito and Laundrie were recorded in Aug. 12 Moab, Utah, police bodycam footage following a domestic incident in which Petito takes blame for hitting Laundrie, though she does tell police that Laundrie grabbed her face. In a statement given to Moab police regarding the same incident that was revealed after the FBI discovered to remains, a witness describes a male — presumably Laundrie — apparently hitting and slapping Petito, a female.

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Laundrie, 23, returned home to North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 in the van without Petito, and her parents filed a missing person report on Sept. 11. Laundrie is a person of interest in the case, and his whereabouts have been unknown for weeks. His parents reported him missing to North Port, Florida, police on Sept. 17.

On Sept. 23, the FBI issued an arrest warrant for Laundrie, accusing him of bank card fraud. Authorities alleged at the time that he used an unidentified person’s Capital One card and the personal identification number to charge or withdraw over $1,000 between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, during which time Petito was still missing. 

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