SARASOTA, Fla. — UPDATE (Sept. 23, 2021): A federal arrest warrant was issued for Brian Laundrie following a grand jury indictment in connection with the Gabby Petito case. Click here for the latest information.
Previous story below:
BREAKING UPDATE: The FBI confirms the human remains found Sunday, Sept. 19, in a remote area of Grand Teton National Park & Bridger-Teton National Forest are that of Gabrielle Petito.
The manner of death is listed as a homicide, the FBI said, with the cause pending the final autopsy results.
The previous story is below.
Wyoming medical examiners and pathologists in the Teton County Coroner's Office have their work cut out for them.
The eyes of the nation are on them, as the Gabby Petito case draws national attention.
On Sunday, a body was found in the campgrounds at Bridger-Teton National Forest. And the human remains matched the description investigators had of 22-year-old Petito, who lived in North Port but vanished during a cross-country road trip with fiancé Brian Laundrie.
Full forensic testing is needed to determine with certainty that the body is Petito's. Dr. Brent Blue told 10 Tampa Bay the investigative findings would be released through the FBI's Denver field office.
The autopsy will be conducted Tuesday.
Back in Florida, the medical examiner in Sarasota County has been following the developments in the case and says the investigation by his counterpart in Wyoming would involve two stages.
The first and most urgent part of the investigation would be to identify the body and confirm whether it is indeed Petito or someone else.
Sarasota County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega said items on the body or around the location where the woman was found could help answer questions faster.
"Things that might be present with the remains like personal items, clothing, jewelry, anything like that that can give some confirmation," Vega said.
Photographs of Petito showed she had unique tattoos on her fingers and her inner arm. Vega said it's possible these have already been matched by investigators at this point which led them to extend condolences to the family. But, they are awaiting definitive word from the coroner.
"That would include potentially using X-rays, fingerprints, dental records or DNA to confirm the identification," Vega said.
The second stage of the examination would be to determine the cause of death.
Vega said examiners would be looking to find signs of blunt force trauma, possibly from a fall or from the impact of some sort of a weapon. They will also look to find signs of asphyxiation and any injuries to the neck area and broken bones near the windpipe. Finally, he said examiners will look to see if there are any signs of ingesting substances, which could have resulted in a drug overdose.
"You don't want to take anything off the table in terms of the things that you are considering. The real question would be with all those things that they're going to be looking at how much will they actually be able to identify," he said.
Investigators believe the body may have been out in the elements for weeks, so examiners could be dealing with extensive deterioration and decomposition.
"That just makes it harder. Obviously, the changes that can occur over time make the identification of both natural disease processes and injuries, either one of which could be involved with a death, much harder to identify," Vega said.
The process of trying to positively identify a body can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours if examiners don't encounter any insurmountable challenges. Vega said a toxicology analysis, which is also a standard part of the examination process, could take a longer time even if a particular case is expedited.