Gabby Petito’s death was ruled a homicide by strangulation, and a domestic violence expert weighs in on the tragic news to In Touch exclusively after a coroner shared the results of the 22-year-old’s autopsy report on Tuesday, October 12.
“Sadly, I am not surprised as a professional working in this area. It’s something we see too often,” Audrey Nafziger, who works as the senior deputy district attorney with the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, tells In Touch.
Petito’s official cause of death was revealed more than two weeks after authorities found her body at Grand Teton National Park. The blogger’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who has been named a person of interest in her disappearance, has refused to talk to police and is now missing.
As police continue their investigation into the moments leading up to Petito’s death, Nafziger reveals why strangulation occurs more commonly among intimate partners.
“In domestic violence or intimate partner violence, it’s about power and control,” Nafziger explains. “Experts routinely testify about power, control and tools perpetrators will use to gain control over the victim. This would be the ultimate tool that could be used because by taking away someone’s breath and ability to breathe, you’re telling them, ‘I can kill you anytime I want.'”
Nafziger explains that according to a 1994 to 2000 study, 56 percent of female homicide victims have experienced strangulation by their partners. She also said one out of four women will experience intimate partner violence and of that group of women, 68 percent will experience near-fatal strangulation by their partner.
Petito was first reported missing in early September after going on a cross-country trek with Laundrie, 23, in their 2012 Ford transit van. Laundrie had ended up returning by himself on September 1 and was last seen on September 14 following a camping trip with his parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie. It is reported that he last told his parents he was going on a hike before vanishing, but the Laundries have since amended the date of their son’s alleged disappearance.
Laundrie has not been charged with any involvement in Petito’s homicide, but there are lingering questions after cops stopped the couple in Moab, Utah, on August 12 following a witness who claimed they saw the duo in a physical altercation.
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Nafziger explains that strangulation by intimate partners happens more often than people may expect.
“Most have been strangled repeatedly, so the guy might say, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ but then stops,” Nafziger, who was the former supervisor of the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection Division, says. “The victim starts to think, ‘Well, I didn’t lose consciousness,’ so they stay. These guys use this as a method of controlling the victim.” Nafziger adds, “[Victims] don’t understand how dangerous it can be long-term especially when it’s repeated over time.”
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