Gabby Petito update: FBI’s decision to hold victim’s remains, cause of death ‘very unusual,’ Dr. Baden says

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NORTH PORT, Fla. – Two weeks since Gabby Petito was revealed to have been the victim of a homicide, famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden told Fox News the FBI’s decision to withhold her remains from her family was “very unusual,” as was the agency’s decision not to release the cause of her death when the manner was announced.

Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue found in his initial determination that Petito, 22, was the victim of a homicide, the FBI’s Denver Field Office announced on Sept. 21. Her body had turned up near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on Sept. 19. 

But the office stopped short of revealing the cause of death pending the final autopsy results, and days went by without the agency releasing her remains to the family – a move that Baden, a Fox News contributor, called “very unusual.” 

“What they’re saying is, whatever they found, they’ve ruled out accidents, suicides or natural deaths that could cause it.” 

“I think the FBI would be very cautious about things because they don’t want to make a mistake,” he told Fox News. “Whatever reasons they’re withholding, it is very unusual.”

He added: “I think that the only reason would be, you’re concerned that you’re missing something, but that should not be a concern, because whatever is needed to investigate the death from the point of view of the medical examiner will be seen, documented and could be retained.”

If a pathologist is questioning whether someone suffered from heart disease, he or she would retain the heart – “but you don’t retain the whole body,” Baden said. 

In 2021,” he went on, “where anything of value can be document[ed], retained, tested on day one or two or three, there’s no reason to keep the whole body from the family.”

Rick Stafford, a spokesperson for Petito’s family, did not respond to requests on Monday and Tuesday regarding whether they finally had been reunited with the victim’s remains. Neither Blue nor the FBI responded to Fox News’ inquiries.

Baden, who served as the chief medical examiner in New York City and the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, has been involved in a bevy of high-profile cases, including the ongoing investigation into the death of Jeffrey Epstein. He also served as the chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations Forensic Pathology Panel.

He said officials did the “reverse” of what agencies typically do in releasing the manner of death before the cause. 

Usually, if one thinks of other deaths, high-profile or not, the cause of death is certainly revealed. Sometimes, sometimes the manner of death is held up,” he said.

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    Gabby Petito’s step-father Jim Schmidt shares photo. (Jim Schmidt/Twitter)

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    Photo of Gabby Petito posted on Twitter by her grandmother, Mary Wickman. (Mary Wickman/Twitter)

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    Gabby Petito with step-mom Tara Petito. (Tara Petito/Twitter)

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    The images show Gabby Petito in her sophomore year and Brian Laundrie as a junior at Bayport-Blue Point High School in New York. ( )

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    Memorial for Gabby Petito grows near City Hall in North Port, Florida. Here are some of the heartfelt messages left in her memory. (Fox News)

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    Memorial for Gabby Petito grows near City Hall in North Port, Florida. Here are some of the heartfelt messages left in her memory. (Fox News)

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    Memorial for Gabby Petito grows near City Hall in North Port, Florida. Here are some of the heartfelt messages left in her memory. (Fox News)

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    Memorial for Gabby Petito grows near City Hall in North Port, Florida. Here are some of the heartfelt messages left in her memory. (Fox News)

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    Members of the public leave flowers at a memorial site for Gabby Petito, Sept. 26, 2021, in Blue Point, Long Island, New York. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images) (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

For instance, Baden explained, a person could die from a drug overdose as a result of an accident, a suicide or a homicide. 

Baden is not involved in the investigation into Petito’s death. Speaking generally, when asked if releasing a victim’s manner of death implies that the cause is already known, he said: “Yes.” 

He continued: “Now, what they’re saying is, whatever they found, they’ve ruled out accidents, suicides or natural deaths that could cause it.” 

Brian Laundrie and Petito had embarked on a cross-country journey in mid-June in a converted white Ford Transit van with the plan to visit national parks along the way. They had begun dating years earlier after meeting at their local Long Island, New York, high school and had moved to North Port, Florida, to live with Laundrie’s parents. 

On Sept. 1, months after they began their trip, Laundrie returned to the North Port home in the couple’s van, but without Petito, officials said. The young woman was not reported missing until 10 days later, on Sept. 11, when her mother notified police in Suffolk County, New York. Authorities later seized the van from the Laundries’ home.

Laundrie was subsequently named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance. He remains on the run, and the FBI has issued an arrest warrant for bank charge fraud. He has not been charged in her death. 

Friends, family and the public paid their respects during a Sept. 26 ceremony on Long Island.

Speaking during the service, Petito’s father, Joseph Petito, called his daughter “the most amazing person I’ve ever met.”

“I want you to take a look at these pictures, and I want you to be inspired by Gabby,” he said at the service. “If there’s a trip you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you have the time. If there is a relationship you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now.”

Fox News’ Paul Best contributed to this report. 

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