By Sandy Malone and Holly Matkin
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Denver field office announced that the coroner had confirmed the remains found belonged to the missing woman and said Petito’s death has been declared a homicide, WTVT reported.
However, the FBI said the release of the specific cause of death would have to wait until the full autopsy report was completed.
Meanwhile, searches for Petito’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, are underway in multiple jurisdictions.
Police have said Laundrie is a “person of interest” in Petito’s disappearance but thus far have stopped short of calling him a suspect.
The couple had been touring U.S. national parks in Petito’s converted camper van since early July.
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said she last spoke with her daughter on Aug. 25, when Petito told her she and Laundrie were heading to Grand Teton, Wyoming before making their way to Yellowstone National Park, ABC News reported.
Laundrie returned to Florida in Petito’s converted camper van without her on Sept. 1.
Petito’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11, but Laundrie refused to speak with them or law enforcement about where he last saw her.
Federal and local law enforcement officers swarmed Laundrie’s parents’ home on Monday morning, just one day after Petito’s remains were recovered in Wyoming.
Shortly before their arrival, police cordoned off the area around the home and told people in the vicinity that it was a “crime scene,” according to FOX News.
“The FBI is executing a court-authorized search warrant at the Laundrie residence in North Port, FL relevant to the Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito investigation,” the FBI said in a statement. “No further details can be provided since this is an active and ongoing investigation.”
Agents were seen photographing a shed in the backyard of the property at one point, KGET reported.
North Port Police Department (NPPD) Spokesperson Josh Taylor confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that the case is officially a criminal investigation, according to Insider.
“This is an FBI-led criminal investigation and North Port Police are assisting our federal partner in any way we can to bring this investigation to a close,” Taylor said.
Laundrie, 23, allegedly disappeared on Sept. 14 after his family said he went hiking in the swampy, alligator-infested reserve north of North Port.
His is parents didn’t report him as missing until Sept. 17 even though he had been named a “person of interest” in Petito’s disappearance two days earlier.
The NPPD said in a press release Tuesday morning that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies were returning to the Carlton Reserve to search the Venice side of the refuge, as well as adjoining lands.
Police did not disclose why they had focused on that area.
“A weekend ground search and aerial search Monday of the 25,000-acre preserve has yet to yield any answers, but we must press on,” the NPPD said.
“Please be aware, the Carlton Reserve is a vast and unforgiving location at times. It is currently [waist] deep in water in many areas. This is dangerous work for the search crews as they are wading through gator and snake infested swamps and flooded hiking and biking trails,” the department added.
Meanwhile, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) in northern Florida confirmed they are “actively” investigating a possible sighting of Laundrie in their jurisdiction, too, the New York Post reported.
That investigation in Baker, Florida, was spurred by an image of a man who closely resembled Laundrie that was captured by a train camera.
Baker is approximately 500 miles away from North Port.
Police in Mobile, Alabama have also chased down over a dozen tips from people who said they possibly saw Laundrie in the local area, but none have resulted in a solid lead, WALA reported.