Gabby Petito was strangled to death, a US coroner has announced, following a post-mortem examination of her body.
Teton County Coroner Dr Brent Blue told a news conference: “In the manner of death in Gabrielle Venora Petito, we find the cause of death the cause is by strangulation and the manner is homicide.”
Ms Petito, 22, who vanished while on a road trip with her boyfriend, was found dead in Wyoming on 19 September – a week after her parents reported her missing – and the case has made headlines across America.
Dr Blue said the level of decomposition of the body suggested she died three to four weeks before her body was discovered.
Ms Petito’s family were notified of the results of the medical examination ahead of the news briefing.
There is a huge effort to track down her travelling partner Brian Laundrie who is considered a person of interest in her disappearance and remains unaccounted for. He has been missing for nearly a month.
Dr Blue said he could not comment on who committed the murder, as this was “up to law enforcement”. It is not yet clear if the new cause of death might lead to additional charges against Mr Laundrie.
The post-mortem took more than three weeks to complete and included specialists and an analysis of toxicology test results, the doctor said.
DNA evidence was taken from Ms Petito’s body but the coroner did not clarify who it belonged to. Dr Blue declined to comment further on the post-mortem, citing Wyoming law that limits what coroners can release.
The couple were visiting national parks in the western US in a Ford transit van and documenting the trip on social media.
Police bodycam showed them being pulled over in Utah in August after they got in an altercation, with the officer separating the couple.
No charges were filed, but police ordered the two to stay in separate lodgings for the night.
Ms Petito’s body was eventually found in an undeveloped camping area surrounded by woodlands and brush, about 30 miles (48km) northeast of Jackson, Wyoming.
TV personalities including Duane Chapman – known as Dog the Bounty Hunter – and America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh have started their own searches for Mr Laundrie.
Earlier this month, police released new bodycam video in which Ms Petito tells officers that, while her boyfriend had hit her, she had hit him first.
The case has led to renewed calls for people to pay greater attention to cases involving missing Indigenous women and other people of colour, with some commentators describing the intense coverage of her disappearance as “missing white woman syndrome.”
Federal officials in Wyoming last month charged Laundrie with unauthorized use of a debit card, claiming he used a Capital One bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorized withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing