The FBI tweeted that Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue ruled the death a homicide in his preliminary findings.
“The cause of death remains pending final autopsy results,” the FBI said, while saying Petito’s fiance, Brian Laundrie, is a person of interest.
“Anyone with information concerning Mr. Laundrie’s role in this matter or his current whereabouts should contact the FBI,” Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said.
Before Petito disappeared while on a cross-country van trip with her fiancé, her conversations with her mother appeared to reveal Petito had “more and more tension” with Laundrie, a police affidavit for a search warrant indicates.
The affidavit, filed by Florida police last week, offers new insight into what investigators have gleaned as they try to determine not only what happened to Petito but also the current whereabouts of the fiancé who returned to Florida this month without her.
Human remains that officials said are consistent with Petito’s description were found Sunday in an undeveloped camping area in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest on the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park. Blue told CNN.
Her family said through an attorney that they need time to grieve.
“We will be making a statement when Gabby is home,” attorney Richard Benson Stafford said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate KSL.
And a police search for the fiancé, Brian Laundrie, resumed Tuesday at a Florida nature reserve where his parents reportedly said he indicated he was going last week.
“A weekend ground search and aerial search Monday of the 25-thousand-acre preserve has yet to yield any answers, but we must press on,” North Port Police said on Facebook. Police indicated the search picked up Tuesday in a different part of the reserve.
Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, had been road-tripping in a white van from New York through the US West over the summer, regularly posting photos and stories to their social media pages with the hashtag #vanlife.
Those posts abruptly stopped in late August, and Laundrie returned to his North Port, Florida, home on September 1 in their van without Petito, whose family reported her missing September 11. Authorities are looking for Laundrie, whose parents told investigators he left home with a backpack September 14, and have searched his home, including on Monday.
The case has become an obsession for many, spurring digital detectives to comb through the couple’s online trail. The story has also further highlighted the tens of thousands of unsolved missing persons stories.
Before she vanished, Petito sent multiple text messages and had many talks with her mother via cell phone during her trip, Florida police wrote in an application filed last week for a search warrant for an external hard drive found in the couple’s van.
In those conversations, there “appeared to be more and more tension between her and Laundrie,” the affidavit reads. On August 27, Petito’s mother received one last communication from her daughter, which she called an “odd text,” the affidavit says.
The message read: “Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.” Because the text message referred to Petito’s grandfather as Stan, her mother was concerned that something was wrong, the warrant states.
Following that text message, Petito’s phone was no longer operational and she stopped posting anything on social media about their trip, the warrant says.
One more text came on August 30 that read, “No service in Yosemite,” but her family doubts she wrote it, Richard Stafford, an attorney representing Joseph Petito and her mother, Nichole Schmidt, said.
Other evidence of tension between Petito and Laundrie also has emerged. A 911 audio recording in Utah sheds new light on a now-well-publicized incident in which police confronted the pair on August 12.
In the 911 recording from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office in Moab, Utah, a caller reports what he called a “domestic dispute” between a couple.
“We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,” the caller says. “Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”
Police later stopped the couple, and previously released police documents and body-camera video reveal what followed that day.
Although the Petito and Laundrie are described in a police report as getting into a physical fight following an argument, “both the male and female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” Officer Eric Pratt wrote in the report.
At the suggestion by police, the couple separated for the night, the report said, which described Petito as “confused and emotional.”
A National Park Service ranger who also responded to the call interacted with Petito for about 90 minutes, and warned her that her relationship with Laundrie had markings of a “toxic” one, the ranger told the Deseret News of Utah.
“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” ranger Melissa Hulls told the Deseret News.
CNN has sought comment from Hulls.
Woman says she picked up Laundrie hitchhiking last month in Wyoming
A woman has said she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride on August 29 in Wyoming — and that Laundrie claimed he’d been camping by himself for multiple days while Petitio was back at their van working on social media posts.
In a series of videos posted on TikTok, Miranda Baker said she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie that evening while he was hitchhiking in Colter Bay, Wyoming. That’s not far from where human remains consistent with Petito’s description were found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Sunday.
Laundrie offered to pay $200 for the ride before he even got into the vehicle, Baker said.
Laundrie, who was wearing a backpack, pants and hiking boots, “looked clean and didn’t smell bad,” and was very polite, Baker said. Laundrie told them he had been camping “basically in the middle of nowhere” at a site outside the Grand Teton National Park, near the Snake River, she said.
Laundrie claimed to have hiked for days along that river, and that all he had was a tarp to sleep on, she said.
Once Laundrie found out Baker and her boyfriend were going to Jackson Hole instead of Jackson, he got agitated, asked that the vehicle stop, and got out near the Jackson Dam, according to Baker. She said they dropped him off less than 30 minutes after picking him up.
Baker said she has spoken to law enforcement about their reported interaction with Laundrie.
North Port police confirmed to CNN that Baker spoke with the department before posting the videos on TikTok.
“Her account is plausible, it appears,” North Port police spokesperson Josh Taylor said.
CNN has not been able to independently verify Baker’s claims. The FBI has not returned CNN requests for comment.
FBI searches Laundrie’s home
The FBI on Monday searched the North Port home of Laundrie and his parents, removing many items over several hours.
Laundrie’s parents, Christopher and Roberta, were escorted from their home Monday morning so agents could execute a search warrant, North Port police spokesman Joshua Taylor told CNN. They were later taken back inside for questioning.
His parents had previously told police that they had not seen Laundrie since September 14, when he told them he was going to the Carlton Reserve, a 25,000-acre nature reserve near Venice, Florida, according to authorities.
Investigators resumed their search there at 8 a.m. ET Tuesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
North Port police on Tuesday announced they were resuming their search on the Venice side of the reserve after saying Monday they’d shifted their search away from the reserve, having “exhausted all avenues” there. Agents from the fish and wildlife commission were requested Monday afternoon, commission spokesperson Adam Brown said.
An attorney for Laundrie’s family, Steven P. Bertolino, said he would hold a news conference Tuesday, but later canceled the event. He said the FBI requested he not hold the conference.
Agents removed a number of items from the home Monday, and a Ford Mustang convertible was also towed away.
Before his parents told police Laundrie left the home September 14, he had refused to talk to investigators, and the family had directed them to their attorney, police said. Laundrie has not been charged in the case.
‘She touched the world,’ father says
Pathologists will conduct a full forensic examination of the remains found Sunday to confirm the identity, said Charles Jones, FBI Denver’s supervisory senior resident agent in Wyoming. Authorities also must identify the cause of death, he said.
Petito’s family has been notified of the discovery.
Her father, Joseph Petito, tweeted a picture of his daughter Sunday evening, saying, “She touched the world.” Richard Stafford, an attorney representing Joseph Petito and her mother, Schmidt, asked that the family be given space, per a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WABC.
Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino called the news “heartbreaking,” adding, “The Laundrie family prays for Gabby and her family.”
Laundrie’s sister praised Petito for her relationship with Laundrie’s nephews, according to a statement to ABC News.
“Gabby was a fun and loving influence to ‘the boys’ as she always referred to them. We will cherish the time we spent with her,” Cassie Laundrie said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt.