NORTH PORT — The attorney for the family of Brian Laundrie, Gabrielle Petito’s boyfriend and a person of interest in her disappearance, reiterated Tuesday that his client has not been named a suspect in her death.
A Wyoming coroner disclosed Tuesday that Petito’s cause of death was strangulation, after it had previously been revealed the manner of death was homicide.
Within 40 minutes of the announcement, Steve Bertolino, the Long Island attorney who has been representing the North Port family since police first approached them about Petito’s disappearance, issued a statement.
“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,” he wrote.
Gabby Petito was reported missing Sept. 11. The North Port resident had been on a months-long journey across the American West with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, 23, in Petito’s conversion van.
The couple had dated for years and were, at one point, engaged. They lived with his parents in the 4300 block of Wabasso Avenue in North Port.
Dr. Brent Blue, the coroner of Teton County, Wyoming, said her autopsy revealed that Petito’s body had been outdoors three to four weeks when authorities found it.
Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed on Sept. 19 that human remains found near Grand Teton National Park matched the missing 22-year-old North Port woman’s description.
After a preliminary examination, Blue ruled Petito’s death a homicide on Sept. 21. Blue said he and other experts did a thorough examination to determine her death was caused by strangulation.
Though the Teton County coroner in Wyoming would name only a cause and manner of death, the questions arose about Gabby Petito’s boyfriend and traveling companion as a possible suspect.
Blue, however, referred that and related questions to the FBI, the lead agency in the investigation.
Media lined Wabasso Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, waiting for the coroner’s announcement of the cause of Petito’s death.
Pat Solerano was driving home from work just after 2:30 p.m. She lives two streets away.
She hadn’t yet heard the results of the autopsy.
“That is so devastating,” Solerna said. “To hear the chanting at night from the megaphones has been very disturbing.”
Several people have turned out at Brian Laundrie’s parents’ home, bringing signs and props, shouting for Christopher and Roberta Laundrie to help police find their son.
Chuck Wenzel, visiting from Wisconsin, was circling the road in search of new information.
“I have been following this from home,” Wenzel said. “It’s kind of surreal after watching it on television and to see it in person now.”
As the disappearance and subsequent death investigation progressed, North Port was at first assisting New York’s Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, was given the lead role, and quickly released that authority to the FBI. Gabby Petito was reported missing to Suffolk County on Sept. 11.
“And we will continue to search for justice,” North Port spokesperson Josh Taylor said Tuesday following Blue’s news conference.
Anyone with information on Brian Laundrie should contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI or tips.fbi.gov.