Gabby Petito Autopsy: When It Is, And the Major Challenges in Determining Cause of Death

Pathologists will conduct an autopsy later today on the remains found in Grand Teton National Park, which authorities expect to be missing hiker Gabby Petito.

The 22-year-old’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11, during a cross-country road trip with her partner, Brian Laundrie. Laundrie returned to his parent’s home in North Port, Florida, without Petito on Sept. 1. He’s been missing since Sept. 14, with police and FBI actively searching for him as a person of interest in the case.

On Sunday, Sept, 19, authorities found the remains of a body in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. The remains matched Gabby Petito’s description. Today’s autopsy, which will likely be happening throughout the afternoon, should hopefully reveal if it is in fact Petito, as well as how and when she died.

But Fox News spoke to certified forensic pathologist Priya Banerjee about the potential difficulties of an autopsy in this circumstance. The amount of time between when Petito’s family last heard from her and now could make the process more difficult.

“The first thing to consider is that if we think about when she was last communicated with in late August, that leads quite a bit of time for her to be deceased and for the body to decompose,” Banerjee said.”So that’s going to make things a little bit more challenging.”

To start off, Banerjee would follow the same process she always does. Just in case things are more straightforward than she thinks.

“I would still approach this case like any other suspicious death. Take fingernails, hair, any sort of sexual assault kit,” Banerjee said. “You just never know what can be found with further testing.”

But after that testing’s completed, the real difficulties lie with the body’s decomposition.

Gabby Petito Autopsy: Decomposition Makes Process More Difficult

“Given the length of time, I just worried that everything’s going to not look like it’s supposed to be. Hence the decomposition,” Banerjee continued. “That can change not only the color of tissues, but it could potentially even hide surface defects.”

Those surface defects could show if certain external forces hurt Gabby Petito before she died. But pathologists can also discover those injuries internally.

“Once we get inside, hopefully they can see remnants of blood discoloration. Bone trauma should be readily identified,” Banerjee explained.

Though decomposition might slow down the process, other methods can help determine the time of death.

“Even with decomposition, sometimes the bugs found on the body and other tissue changes can help you along the lines for dating,” the pathologist said. “Bugs, soil elements can actually… if a forensic entomologist gets involved, they can work backward to try to deduce a better timeline for when she was killed.”

But things would be a lot easier if the pathologists knew what killed her before conducting the autopsy.

“We don’t know exactly how she died. And so that’s going to be critical for the pathologist to really dive in,” Banerjee concluded. “Use all sorts of extra analysis, not only toxicology. Potentially needing a forensic anthropologist, if bone trauma’s there, depending on the condition of the body.”