Why Gabby Petito's Official Cause Of Death Was Tragically Predictable

Photo: YouTube
Gabby Petito, Coroner Blue and Brian Laundrie

During a press conference today, Teton County Coroner Brent Blue revealed that the official cause of death found via Gabby Petito's autopsy was strangulation. She is believed to have died between 3-4 weeks before she was found in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on September 19.

The 22-year-old's death was ruled a homicide on September 22, the specific manner in which she died had not yet been released to the public. The whereabouts of her boyfriend/fiance Brian Laundrie remain unknown at this time.

And while the coroner cannot make determinations about anything of a criminal nature, such as whether or not Brian Laundry is the person who killed her, the way in which she was murdered was not only undeniably violent, it is one of the most common causes of death for women who have been victims of domestic violence.

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How common is strangulation?

Exact statistics are somewhat hard to come by. The Bureau of Justice states that nearly 4000 victims of domestic violence are killed every year, and strangulation accounts for 10% of all violent deaths in the US on annual basis.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline says stangulation, defined as "the obstruction of blood vessels and/or airflow in the neck resulting in asphyxia," is a significant predictor for future lethal violence.

People who have been strangled by their partner in the past face an increased risk of later being killed at rates of as much as 10 times higher.

In Oklahoma alone, 80% of women who were victims of abuse by their partner from 2009 to 2013 reported having been strangled during the course of their relationship.

Perhaps most chilling, the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, a California-based program reports that strangulation victims are 750% more likely to be killed than victims who have never been strangled.

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What red flags led people to believe Gabby Petito was strangled before the autopsy results were released?

When police officers in Moab, Utah pulled Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie over on August 12 in a stop recorded on one of the officer's bodycams, Gabby told them Brian had grabbed her by the lower portion of her face as they argued.

Although those officers decided at the time that Gabby had been the aggressor, grabbing someone in that manner would not only appear to be an offensive rather than defensive act, but could also be seen a close precursor to strangulation.

One study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine found that "[prior] non-fatal strangulation was associated with greater than six-fold odds... of becoming an attempted homicide, and over seven-fold odds... of becoming a completed homicide."

While Brian Laundrie has not been charged in Gabby Petito's murder and law enforcement has yet to refer to him as a suspect rather than as a person of interest, if he had ever choked or strangled Gabby in the past, that may have been a bright red flag waving toward the tragic ending of her young life.

As the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention also notes, "One reason that strangulation is a particularly concerning warning sign in IPV is because of what it represents: Control, taken from the victim and placed in the hands of the perpetrator, who, in the moment of violence, has the power to literally take the breath of the victim."

Photo: The Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention

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How long does it take to die by strangulation?

One of the most disturbing implications of the news that Gabby Petito died by strangulation is the particularly brutal nature of what this means she endured.

Estimates of how long it takes to die by strangulation vary widely. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says "unconsciousness may occur within seconds, and death within minutes," and various sources offer time estimates with ranges of up to one minute, 4-6 minutes, and between 6 and 15 minutes, with an average being around 7 minutes.

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Regardless of specifically how many minutes it takes for a particular individual to die by strangulation or choking, the victim will go through several stages visible to the perpetrator before they die. Someone who is being strangled will likely first be rendered unconscious. They will then likely experieences seizures.

Jessica Collett, a nurse at a domestic violence service center, told Oklahoma Watch that strangulation is "the ultimate form of power and control... They’re literally holding someone’s life in their hands.”

If Brian Laundrie or whoever killed Gabby Petito had killed her in what could be viewed as a more instaneous act of rage, there may still be some who could find empathy or reason to believe her death may have happened as an accident or as the result of self-defense.

The deliberation needed to continuation purposely closing off someone's air supply as you watch them lose consciousness and likely experience severe seizures is, for most rational humans, beyond unfathomable, to put it mildly.

RELATED: Brian Laundrie Was Prescribed Medication For Mental Illness Before Gabby Petito's Death — But Refused To Take It

Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, MSN, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Find her on Twitter or on Instagram for more.