The Biggest Gabrielle Petito Theories: What Really Happened?

Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito, a 22-year-old woman whose disappearance during a road trip with her fiancé has garnered national media attention, was found dead on September 19, 2021, per North Port Police. Petito's cause of death has not yet been determined. According to North Port Police, Petito's fiancé, Brian Laundrie, returned home to Florida on September 1 alone. He and Petito lived with Laundrie's parents in North Port.

The couple's trip started on July 1, per The New York Times. According to the FBI, Petito was reported missing on September 11 by her family, though it is not clear why it took 10 days after Laundrie's solo return in Petito's camper van for her disappearance to be reported to law enforcement. To further arouse suspicion, Laundrie has continually refused police requests for an interview. Before the discovery of Petito's remains in a camping area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, the case was being investigated as a missing person's case, and Laundrie was a person of interest.

But now Laundrie is missing. North Port Police tweeted that they spoke to the Laundrie family on September 17 and September 18. The department said they were searching for Laundrie in an area called the Carlton Reserve, as his family said he went there earlier in the week and hasn't returned. As of the time of this writing — September 20 — Laundrie is still missing.

Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie portrayed themselves as in love with each other and travel

According to The New York Times, Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie met at a Long Island High School, and their most recent road trip started out of New York. From Instagram posts on Petito's page, you get a sense that she did a fair amount of traveling in the years before she and Laundrie set out for what was supposed to be a four-month trip camping around the United States. On March 17, 2020, she posted a photo with her and Laundrie with the caption, "One whole year's worth of adventures and stories down & a lifetime to go."

On May 27 on 2020, Petito posted another photo with Laundrie and said, "I can't wait to get back to days like this, traveling the world with you and asking strangers to take our picture. Never taking moments like this for granted again! Love you." Then, on July 2, 2020, she posted a picture from what she said was their first date and said, "Brian asked me to marry him, and I said yes! @bizarre_design [Laundrie's Instagram handle] you make life feel unreal, and every day is such a dream with you." 

A year later, they set out on what would be their last trip together — a dream turned nightmare. 

Police got involved with the couple in Utah

Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie's Instagram accounts show beautiful scenery paired with posts about the amazing time they were having. But we know that social media accounts are often curated to project an image that does not always match a person's reality. Anyone who has been on a road trip with another person also understands that it can be stressful and exhausting. Sometimes, arguments and fights happen, and it was no different for the young couple. One of the few bits of information that law enforcement has shared about the ongoing investigation bodycam footage of the couple when they were pulled over in Utah after an officer said the van was speeding and driving erratically, even hitting a curb (via Law & Crime).

In an incredibly polite exchange between the couple and police — atypical of the police cam videos the public is used to seeing after some kind of situation occurs that attracts national interest — Moab Police questioned Petito and Laundrie separately. And both told the same story: that morning, there were some typical frustrations involving an abundance of flies where they had been, and Laundrie's feet were dirty. Petito told police she had obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, and long story short, as Laundrie was driving, the couple was arguing and Petito started hitting her fiancé while he was at the wheel. Petito was crying and told police she had been "distracting" Laundrie while he was driving. At one point, Laundrie told police, "I'm fine and I love Gabby." 

The couple seemed to work it out

In the police cam video posted by Law & Crime, you get the sense of a stressed-out couple; they seem forthcoming and apologetic. Moab police decided that it was a domestic squabble due to mounting tensions. An officer told Gabrielle Petito the couple needed to separate for the night, and he was not going to cite Petito for domestic violence, although she was deemed the one who physically attacked Brian Laundrie. Police put Laundrie in a hotel room and told Petito to get with him in the morning. He also said she should go somewhere else in the camper van. That was August 12. 

On August 13, Laundrie posted twice on Instagram for the last time. He said he was at Arches National Park and talked about a lack of biodegradable packaging. He also posted a second pro-environment post. Petito's last post was on August 25 — she is smiling and holding what looks like a knitted pumpkin with the caption, "Happy Halloween." The pair also chronicled their journey via YouTube, and it's all healthy eating, yoga, nature, hammocks, and smiles — until it wasn't. 

The question remains: What happened to Gabby? With her story coming to a tragic end, there are only a few possibilities: murder, suicide, an accident, or a random health issue, which is unlikely in the case of a healthy 22-year-old. In addition, on August 12 — the same day as the police intervention — Petito posted on Instagram that she and Laundrie were "athletic and very experienced hikers."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Many people on the internet think Brian Laundrie killed Gabrielle Petito

Investigators will likely know more once an autopsy is completed and/or if they find Brian Laundrie and can get some information out of him. For now, with the investigation open and active, law enforcement cannot share their theories or what they have already found. But people on the internet can, and they surely are spouting some theories. 

To be sure, all eyes are on Laundrie. He was the only person with Petito as far as the public knows, and thanks to its fascination with crime — both true and fictional — the boyfriend or husband always raises an eyebrow. In this case, even more so with Laundrie's evasiveness. On various social media platforms, theories of what tragedy may have befallen the young traveler continue to swirl.

Of course, Laundrie may have taken his fiance's life, and many online are vilifying the young man. But if he did it, how, and why? Was it premeditated, or did he snap? Some say the situation fits the narrative of a possessive and controlling man, and when police pulled the couple over in Moab, they essentially aided Laundrie. Still, he was the one who exhibited scratch marks on his body, which he claimed were from Petito's rings and nails. What's more, Petito told the police she was striking him. Petito was fast to take the blame for the situation, and some on Twitter see that as a sign of her covering for a man she was afraid of. 

Investigators searched Brian Laundrie's family home even though he is still missing

Another possible reason for Gabrielle Petito's death is that for whatever reason, the couple went their separate ways, and something happened to her while they were apart. Someone else could have hurt her, or there could have been an accident in the wilderness. It's possible Laundrie didn't know where Petito was, but most logical people who care about someone would call for help if their financé went missing. And it's Laundrie's behavior that is largely feeding the theories that he murdered Petito — whether or not it was planned — and then hoped to get away with it. Some commenters on Petito's Instagram page and on other social media sites even suggest Laundrie may have been faking posts as Petito for a time to throw off suspicion. 

It's not just people online who seem to think Laundrie is the key to finding out what happened to Petito. FBI Tampa posted on Twitter that they had a search warrant for Laundrie's parents' home in North Port, Florida, on September 20, even as Laundrie is still missing. As for what really happened, we may never know for sure. For now, investigators have found just one piece of the puzzle — the remains of a young woman with wanderlust whose life was tragically cut short. In the coming days, we will likely learn more, but nothing will bring Gabby Petito back to her family and friends.