Tragic Details About Gabby Petito

This article contains mentions of intimate partner abuse and suicide.

Since it was first reported in September 2021, the tragic story of the mysterious disappearance of Gabby Petito captured the nation. The 22-year-old aspiring van-life blogger, originally from Long Island, New York, embarked on a road trip across the country with Brian Laundrie, a man who was initially reported to be her fiancé, only a few months prior in June. The couple, who were then residents of North Port, Florida, packed their white transit van and documented much of their trip online on various social media accounts, including a  YouTube channel, a blog both Petito and Laundrie named "Nomadic Statik," and Petito's Instagram. Their last stop was supposed to be Oregon, where they expected to reach by the end of October, based on their posts. Sadly, the two would not make it.

Throughout the couple's road trip, Petito consistently updated her social media pages and communicated with friends and family. But that all stopped in late August once Petito had reached Wyoming. Her mother, Nicole Schmidt, told police that she last heard from her daughter at the end of the month when the pair were believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park, as ABC's local New York affiliate Eyewitness News reported at the time the case first broke. And on September 1, Laundrie returned to Florida in the van without Petito (via CBS New York).

Gabby Petito's family reports her missing

Gabby Petito's family reported her missing to Long Island's Suffolk County Police Department on September 11, 2021, roughly two weeks after they last heard from her in August. According to Eyewitness News, Schmidt had a video chat with her daughter sometime on August 24 or 25, and the last text exchange between them was on August 30. That day would be the last time she had any sign of communication with her daughter, but Schmidt believed there was a distinct possibility that the person communicating with her in those final text messages was not, in fact, Petito, per Eyewitness News.

In the following days, Schmidt said that she and her family felt discouraged and saddened that they had not heard from Petito, but continued to stay optimistic in their search to locate here. "We don't eat, we don't sleep, we're just actively looking for her," Schmidt told reporters at the time (via Eyewitness News). She also expressed fear for her daughter's safety and whereabouts. "I believe she's in danger because she's not in touch with us," Schmidt added. "She could be alone somewhere. She could be stranded somewhere in the wilderness and she needs help." And unfortunately for Petito's family, the return of Brian Laundrie to his family's home in Florida yielded no further answers.

Gabby Petito's fiancé returns and goes silent

Though Brian Laundrie returned home to Florida on September 1, 2021, he did not offer any public explanation for why Petito was not with him, or why their trip was cut short, as CNN later noted in their coverage. As of this writing, it is not known what Laundrie may have told his parents about Petito no longer being with him or whether he offered any explanation at all — despite the fact that the couple had been living with the Laundrie family in Florida before Petito's disappearance.   

Per CNN, Laundrie reportedly declined offers to speak with authorities in Florida and instead obtained a lawyer to handle all communication. During a September 16 news briefing, Petito's family made pleas through a statement read by their attorney. "Please, if you or your family have any decency left, please, tell us where Gabby is located," read the statement in part. They further pleaded for Laundrie to "tell us if we are even looking in the right place. All we want is for Gabby to come home. Please help us make that happen."

The Petito family's attorney also stated during the briefing that the Petito family had reached out to the Laundries earlier in the month in the hope of gathering any new information, per CNN, but that the Laundrie family refused to offer any further insight into their daughter's whereabouts.

The disturbing police cam video of Gabby Petito

Despite the couple's happy presentation on their social media posts, there were previous indications that there may have been deeper issues within the relationship, enough to warrant red flags and cause for concern. As media outlets like NBC News reported in September 2021, the release of body cam footage taken by officers of the couple after both were pulled over outside Moab, Utah a month prior became a major focal point in public reaction to the search for Gabby Petito.

On August 12, Utah police briefly detained the couple after emergency services received a call from a witness who reported seeing two individuals, later identified as Petito and Brian Laundrie, having a heated disagreement that allegedly turned physical. (Audio of the call eventually released to the public indicated the caller stated that Petito had hit Laundrie, per KSL News.)  In the video footage, both Laundrie and Petito are seen talking to responding officers about an argument both stated had escalated. Petito appears visibly distressed and upset while Laundrie seems comparatively calm. 

Per ABC News, the pair both agreed to police that Petito was the aggressor. (However, advocacy groups like National Coalition Against Domestic Violence later criticized the Moab officers for ignoring red flags and signs that Petito, not Laundrie, was the victim party, per the Washington Post.) After over an hour, they agreed to both separate for the night after Laundrie declined to press charges; Laundrie got a hotel room, and Petito stayed in the van. 

Two grieving families at odds

Although Brian Laundrie was often referred to as Gabby Petito's fiancé by the media, the media dropped the title while referring to Laundrie in their coverage after Gabby Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, stated the couple had called off their engagement just before embarking on their "van life" trip (via Insider).

Regardless of the status of the couple's engagement in the wake of her disappearance, both families were at this point seemingly at odds, as ABC New York's local affiliate Eyewitness News reported in September 2021. Laundrie's refusal to speak up about Petito's whereabouts purportedly sparked the initial family statement from Petito's family, in which they implied his silence was selfish and unhelpful in their search. "Brian, your silence is reprehensible! We beg you to do the right thing and help us bring Gabby home," the statement read. In response, Laundrie's lawyer released a response stating that he had advised his client to stay silent.

According to CNN, Laundrie's parents told police they believed their son was missing on September 17, and that they hadn't spoken or seen him since three days prior to their disclosure. Authorities have focused their search for Laundrie on the 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve in Florida, where Laundrie's parents believe he may have gone but, as of publication, his whereabouts remained unknown for weeks, as CNN summarized in their later coverage of the case.

A body is found matching Gabby Petito's description

On September 19, the FBI confirmed that remains discovered inside Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park were consistent with Petito's description. Though the body was not initially confirmed to be that of the missing blogger, the Teton County Coroner's Office later verified that it was and that they ruled the cause of death to be a homicide, per CNN.

Soon after the recovery of Petito's body, the FBI zeroed in on searching the Laundrie family home, per the Orlando Sentinel, with media reports surfacing that members of the Laundrie family were brought in for questioning. As Newsweek later noted in their coverage of the case, some of those questioned the days following the date Petito was reported missing appeared to have obfuscated facts while speaking to authorities, including a later claim that Brian Laundrie's parents last saw their son on September 13, not September 14, as they had initially stated. (Per the Deseret News, the Laundrie family's attorney later denied they had ever spoken to Florida law enforcement.)

Ultimately, the case came to a close after the remains of Laundrie, who had been the subject of a weeks-long FBI search, were found in late October 2021 in a nature reserve near Sarasota, Florida, as CBS News reported shortly following the discovery. Authorities later released a statement revealing that Laundrie, who had been a person of interest in the case until his death, had died by suicide, and a notebook containing his confession to Petito's murder was found nearby, per USA Today.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

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