Investigators are now calling the death of Gabby Petito "murder" following the discovery of human remains believed to belong to suspect Brian Laundrie.
At a press conference announcing the discovery at a campsite in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s Tampa office, Michael McPherson, said it would take some time to confirm whether the remains belong to Mr Laundrie.
"A person of interest in the murder of Gabby Petito," Mr McPherson said.
The case has been ruled a homicide by the Teton County Coroner, and this is believed to be the first time her death has been described as murder by a law enforcement official.
The difference between homicide and murder is a significant legal distinction, as homicide is a broad term that includes both the legal and illegal killing of one person by another person. A murder, however, is when that killing is illegal and done with some form of malice or intent. All murders are homicide, but not all homicides are murders.
As the nationwide manhunt for Mr Laundrie continued, authorities issued a federal warrant for his arrest on fraud for allegedly using someone else’s credit card.
Even as Ms Petito’s cause of death was ruled to be manual strangulation/throttling, meaning done with bare hands rather than an instrument, the warrant for Mr Laundrie’s arrest remained on fraud.
Police generally issue warrants for the charge with the lowest bar to prove so that suspects can be held for questioning, and authorities expected more charges against Mr Laundrie once taken into custody.
The shift to calling the homicide a murder comes after the discovery of human remains at a campsite where Mr Laundrie is believed to have stayed.
“Investigators found what appears to be human remains, along with personal items such as a backpack and notebook belonging to Brian Laundrie. These items were found in an area that up until recently had been underwater," Mr McPherson said.
“It’s likely the team will be on the scene for several days. I know you have a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers yet," he added. "We are working diligently to get those answers for you.”