Gabby Petito: Everything we know about YouTuber’s murder on ‘dream’ road trip

·22-min read

Gabby Petito, 22, an aspiring social media star who went missing in late August during a “dream” cross-country road trip from New York to Oregon with her fiancé, was strangled to death, and her body found in a Wyoming national park.

More than a month later, skeletal human remains found inside the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in Florida were confirmed to be those of her fiancé Brian Laundrie. There had been no trace of him throughout a weeks-long hunt.

“The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring that anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms Petito’s death is held accountable for their actions,” special agent in charge Michael Schneider said.

Autopsy results showed he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, family lawyer Steven Bertolino announced on 23 November.

Family members and police had conducted a nationwide search for the missing “van life” blogger after her mother, Nicole Schmidt, reported her missing on 11 September, ten days after Mr Laundrie had returned home to North Port, Florida, in the couple’s white Ford transit van without her and declined to co-operate with inquiries from Ms Petito’s family.

Gabby Petito, from Blue Point, Long Island, was last seen on 24 August when she checked out of a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Mr Laundrie, her partner of two and a half years.

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie (GabsPetito/Instagram)
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie (GabsPetito/Instagram)

The couple had been documenting their travel experiences as “van lifers” since setting out from New York on 2 July via a YouTube channel called Nomadic Statik. Ms Petito would regularly FaceTime her mother from the road, causing Ms Schmidt to grow concerned when she failed to hear from her daughter for several days.

On 15 September, North Port Police in Florida revealed that Mr Laundrie was a “person of interest” in the case.

Two days earlier, Mr Laundrie himself went missing, although his family did not report his absence to the police for several days. He was believed to have headed to the nearby Carlton Reserve with just a backpack, prompting an intense manhunt in the area.

That same day, the FBI removed Mr Laundrie’s parents from their home and began investigating the house as a crime scene.

While law enforcement was searching for Mr Laundrie in Florida on 19 September, investigators announced they had located a body believed to be that of Ms Petito in the eastern portion of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The discovery was aided by another travel YouTuber who spotted Ms Petito’s van in a video they had been editing.

On October 20, human remains were found in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, connected to the Carlton Reserve, close to where personal belongings of Mr Laundrie’s were found earlier in the day. No confirmation as to the identity was immediately released, but the skeletal remains were confirmed to belong to Mr Laundrie a day later.

Here is everything we know about the case.

Last contact

According to Ms Schmidt, Gabby Petito would FaceTime with her about three times a week.

But after the pair spoke on 25 August, Ms Schmidt received several worrying text messages over the following few days but was not convinced that they were actually written by her daughter.

Those text messages sent by Ms Petito to her mother in the days before her disappearance indicated a growing strain between her and Mr Laundrie, a police search warrant later revealed.

Ms Schmidt’s suspicions were further raised when she received a final “odd text” in which Ms Petito mentioned her grandfather by his first name “Stan” on 27 August, the warrant stated.

“Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls,” the message said, according to the warrant.

Ms Schmidt said the text was concerning because her daughter never called her grandfather by his first name.

“The mother was concerned something was wrong with her daughter,” the warrant said, and provided “probable cause” that a felony crime had been committed.

Prior to the last communication, Ms Petito was believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Ms Petito’s mother told Fox News the pair were heading for Yellowstone National Park next but Ms Petito never arrived.

“The first couple of days when I wasn’t getting responses, I believed she was in a place with no service. It was like day eight and nine that I really became concerned,” Ms Schmidt said.

Ms Schmidt now believes the final text message she received from her daughter claiming she was in Yosemite was fake.

The text message sent from her daughter’s phone on 30 August said: “No service in Yosemite”. Her phone was switched off on 31 August or 1 September.

Yosemite, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is 800 miles from her last known location in Wyoming.

Ms Schmidt said she texted Brian and his mother Roberta Laundrie on 10 September but had received no response.

Gabby Petito was reported missing to the Suffolk County Police Department, New York, by her family on 11 September around 6.55pm.

Mr Laundrie had returned to his Florida home on 1 September without his fiancee. Police subsequently seized the couple’s 2012 Ford Transit van on the day she was reported missing and said the circumstances of her disappearance “appeared odd”.

In the last post to her Instagram account on 25 August, Ms Petito wrote ‘Happy Halloween' (GabsPetito/Instagram)
In the last post to her Instagram account on 25 August, Ms Petito wrote ‘Happy Halloween' (GabsPetito/Instagram)

Brian Laundrie named ‘person of interest’ and vanishes

On 15 September, North Port Police named Brian Laundrie as a “person of interest” in the case.

“As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby’s family is going through,” North Port Police chief Todd Garrison said in a press release.

“The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out.”

Two days earlier, on 13 September, Mr Laundrie left home, reportedly telling his parents he was going for a hike in the nearby Carlton Reserve. He has not been seen since.

Crucially, his parents did not inform investigators he had left the house and was missing until three days later on 17 September and initially misstated the day of his departure as 14 September, before revising their statement.

A major search got underway in the swampy 25,000-acre wilderness on 18 September, as police said it was possible he could survive there hiding out “for months”.

It was later revealed his parents went camping with Brian in Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County between 6 and 8 September, days before Ms Petito was reported missing on 11 September.

North Port Police scaled back its search for Mr Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve, saying it had “exhausted all avenues” for finding him man in the dense swampland. Days later, divers returned to the area for a new round of searching

The same day, FBI and North Port Police executed a search warrant at the Laundrie family home in North Port, as hundreds of onlookers and members of the media were gathered outside.

They removed parents Chris, 62, and Roberta, 55, and placed them in a police vehicle in the driveway as they conducted a six-hour search of the house.

A search warrant revealed they were particularly interested in examining devices including phones, computers and external hard drives for any clues as to Mr Laundrie’s whereabouts or involvement in his girlfriend’s death.

Internet browsing history, text messages and other data stored on those devices was of particular focus, the warrant said.

North Port Police, the FBI and several other law enforcement agencies resumed their search of the alligator and snake-infested Carlton Reserve on 21 September.

Meanwhile, authorities in Alabama received reports of several sightings of Mr Laundrie in the state, 600 miles from North Port over the same weekend.

Eventually former reality tv star Duane Chapman, aka Dog the Bounty Hunter, joined the manhunt, bringing another layer of spectacle to the ongoing search.

Mr Chapman donated $10,000 to the reward fund for locating Mr Laundrie, uncovered what he believed to be a “primitive” campsite and also turned reporters onto the Laundrie family trip to Fort DeSoto, but eventually left the search after suffering an injury to his ankle.

The search for Mr Laundrie continued into October. The FBI took over the case from the North Port Police, and almost immediately began scaling the swamp searches for Mr Laundrie back. After several days of truncated search efforts, a decision was made to once again surge into the swamp to look for Mr Laundrie. Chris Laundrie joined the police for a day, driving with them into the Carlton Reserve to point out his son’s favored spaces.

No evidence of Mr Laundrie was ever found anywhere in the Carlton Reserve. However, on 20 October, police found Mr Laundrie’s belongings and later recovered human remains close to where his belongings were found, in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park. The identity of the remains was confirmed to be his using Mr Laundrie’s dental records.

North Port Police released photographs of the van they seized from Mr Laundrie’s home (North Port Police)
North Port Police released photographs of the van they seized from Mr Laundrie’s home (North Port Police)

The ‘domestic incident’ and an eerie connection to a double homicide

With the investigation underway and whipping up international media interest, police in the small Utah town of Moab City revealed they had responded to reports of a domestic violence incident involving the couple some five weeks earlier.

A bystander had called 911 at about 4.45pm on 12 August to say he “feared the worst” after witnessing the couple come to blows in their van.

“I’m right on the corner of Main St by Moonflower… I’d like to report a domestic dispute,” the caller said in the 49-second audio recording, which was released on 20 September.

“The gentleman was slapping the girl… They ran up and down the sidewalk, he proceeded to hit her and then they drove off.”

The incident happened outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative, where newlywed Kylen Schulte worked.

The bodies of Ms Schulte, 24, and her wife Crystal Turner, 38, were found days later in a nearby camping ground, with multiple gunshot wounds. The double homicide remains unsolved and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office has said the two incidents were not connected, although for a moment it was feared they could be.

Police in Utah also released body camera footage of the incident showing officers separating Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie.

Attending officer Daniel Robbins said the couple appeared to have been going through a “mental health crisis”, according to a police incident report obtained by The Independent.

The officer reported that the couple both suffered from a mental illness that caused them to argue more and they had not been taking medication during their cross-country trip in their converted Ford van.

“That time spent created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments,” Mr Robbins wrote.

Mr Robbins wrote that Mr Laundrie had tried to lock his girlfriend out of the van, but she managed to get in through the driver’s door.

“He got into their van and Gabrielle had gone into a manic state. Brian said Gabrielle, thinking he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride, went to slap him,” Mr Robbins wrote.

“As Gabrielle started to swing, Brian pushed her away to avoid the slap.”

According to the statement, Ms Petito was off balance but still caught Mr Laundrie’s face and right arm, leaving visible scratches.

Mr Robbins said he did not believe the incident “escalated to the level of a domestic assault”.

He decided to separate the couple for the night so they could “reset their mental states”.

Even though the couple wanted to remain together, police arranged for Mr Laundrie to spend the night at a hotel through Seekhaven, a family crisis centre in Moab.

Ms Petito remained in the van for the evening.

“I instructed both Brian and Gabrielle to take advantage of this time apart to relax their emotions and regain control of their anxiety.”

Earlier on 12 August, Ms Petito posted several pictures to her Instagram account. They included several of herself standing underneath the famous Delicate Arch landmark at the national park, and one of her and Mr Laundrie.

Gabby Petito posted several pictures of her and Mr Laundrie at the Arches National Park in Utah on the same day as police attended a ‘domestic violence’ (GabsPetito/Instagram)
Gabby Petito posted several pictures of her and Mr Laundrie at the Arches National Park in Utah on the same day as police attended a ‘domestic violence’ (GabsPetito/Instagram)

She described hiking to the arch at 7am and meeting other hikers along the track.

“We also camped for one night in Devils Garden with the cover off of our tent to fall asleep watching the stars, trying to catch a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower,” she wrote.

Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner were last seen at a bar in Moab on 13 August and their bodies were found five days later at a campsite in the South Mesa area of the La Sal Mountains.

After the Moonflower Co-op connection emerged, Maggie Keating, the store’s marketing and community outreach coordinator told The Independent the connection to another high-profile case was troubling.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” she said. “We’re definitely still grieving the loss. It’s only been a month and we’ve had to keep trucking along and then this brings it back to the forefront of our minds.”

There is no evidence to connect the two incidents, but the timing and proximity to each other has prompted further unease in the town.

Seeking answers

North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor told The Independent Mr Laundrie’s parents had refused to allow officers to speak to him and had given them contact information for the family’s attorney, Steve Bertolino.

Asked if police found anything suspicious in the family’s actions, Mr Taylor said: “There’s common sense at play.”

“We don’t even have any evidence that a crime has been committed, other than concern and things not adding up that would leave you to potentially assume that,” he added.

“It’s possible that something very bad has happened here, she hasn’t been seen for weeks and now he’s back here with the vehicle and we’ve been told to speak to the family attorney.”

Later that day, Mr Bertolino issued a statement saying they hoped the search for Ms Petito would be successful.

“This is an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family,” the statement said.

“I understand that a search has been organised for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

“On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.

“On the advice of counsel the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”

Both Ms Petito’s father, Joe Petito, and mother, Ms Schmidt, were angered by the Laundrie family statement.

Appearing on Fox News, Gabby’s father Joe Petito said: “I’m sorry. That’s not a statement.

“Forget Brian, Brian’s home safe. His parents, yeah it’s hard for them. Bulls***.

“You know what? My daughter is not here. Our daughter is not here. We don’t even know where she is, what state she’s in.”

Later that day, Ms Schmidt also blasted her daughter’s boyfriend.

“Brian claims he wants to sit in the background while we search for Gabby in the wilderness of the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks,” she wrote in a statement released through her lawyer, Richard Stafford.

“Brian left Gabby in the wilderness with grizzly bears and wolves while he sits in the comfort of his home. In his home!

“Brian, how could you do this to Gabby?” Ms Schmidt asked, adding his silence was “reprehensible”.

Ms Schmidt implored Mr Laundrie to come forward with what he knew.

“Brian, whatever happened in Wyoming, happened. The only thing you can control is what you do now. Tell us where Gabby is.”

‘At the point that their desperation is turning to anger’

Ms Petito’s parents continued to increase the pressure on the Laundrie family, releasing an open letter to Brian’s parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, begging them to tell the police what they know.

The open letter, signed by Jim and Nicole Schmidt, Ms Petito’s stepfather and mother, and Joe and Tara Petito, her father and stepmother, was read out to a press conference by Mr Stafford.

The full text reads: “We are writing this letter to ask you to help find our beautiful daughter. We understand you are going through a difficult time and your instinct to protect your son is strong.

“We ask you to put yourselves in our shoes We haven’t been able to sleep or eat and out live are falling apart.

“We believe you know the location of where Brian left Gabby. We beg you to tell us. As a parent, how could you let us go through this pain and not help us. As a parent how could you put Gabby’s younger brothers and sisters through this.

“Gabby lived with you for over a year. she was going to be your daughter-in-law. How can you keep her location hidden?

“You were both at Jim and Nicole’s house. You were both so happy that Brian and Gabby got engaged and were planning to spend their lives together.

“Please, if you or your family has any decency left, please tell us where Gabby is located. Tell us if we are even looking in the right place.

“All we want is Gaby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”

An open letter from the family of Gabby Petito to Mr Laundrie’s parents Christopher and Roberta (Petito Family)
An open letter from the family of Gabby Petito to Mr Laundrie’s parents Christopher and Roberta (Petito Family)

After reading the letter, Mr Stafford told media the parents were “at the point that their desperation is turning to anger”.

“They know that the Laundries know where their daughter is. That’s infuriating.”

‘Finding her is all that matters’

As media and public interest in Ms Petito’s disappearance grew, her family harnessed that attention to repeatedly call for help in finding their daughter.

Ms Schmidt told a press conference on 13 September: “As a mom, I had concerns about a daughter going on a road trip in general. But I felt safe... They had a plan, an itinerary, and we were excited for them.”

Addressing Ms Petito directly, her father said: “Gabby, we just want you to come home. Call us. Let us know you’re OK. Come home, please.”

Using social media, the family continued to share updates and photographs of Ms Petito, with Joe Petito telling another press conference: “Finding her is all that matters.”

But looming over their activities was the continuing silence of one person: Brian Laundrie.

The Petito camp’s pressure campaign may have had some effect as North Port Police were called to the Laundrie residence on the night of 17 September and were informed by Mr Laundrie’s parents that he had left the family house earlier that week, heading for the Carlton Reserve, and had not been seen since.

As the police hunted for Mr Laundrie in Florida, the search for Ms Petito began to hone in on an area where their Ford Transit van had been spotted in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

YouTuber Jen Bethune was driving through the Spread Creek Campground on 27 August, recording from a dashcam as she went.

It was only after Ms Petito was declared missing that she realised the significance of the white van parked on the side of the road and picked out by her camera as she passed.

Once her video evidence was relayed to investigators searching for Ms Petito, they concentrated their efforts in the area.

Body found

On Sunday 19 September, the FBI announced a body had been found in the area they were searching in the Grand Teton National Park.

Police subsequently held a press conference and announced that the body matched the description of Ms Petito. Her family were informed of the development and social media was inundated with messages of condolence.

On 21 September, Petito family attorney Richard Stafford confirmed the body was indeed Gabby’s in a text message to The Independent.

The Teton County coroner, Dr Brent Blue, confirmed Ms Petito’s death had been a homicide but the exact cause of death has still not yet been confirmed.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help the family and to pay for investigators and travel costs. It has so far received contributions of more than $95,000.

Funeral services for Ms Petito will be carried out once her body has ben returned to her family in New York.

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie (Nomadic Statik/YouTube)
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie (Nomadic Statik/YouTube)

Arrest warrant

On 23 September, the FBI revealed a warrant had been issued for Mr Laundrie’s arrest by a federal court a day earlier, relating to his “activities following the death of Gabrielle Petito”.

Specifically, Mr Laundrie was charged with fraudulently using someone else’s debit card from 30 August to 1 September, spending or withdrawing $1,000 or more.

Laundrie family lawyer Steven Bertolino told Fox News the warrant was unrelated to Ms Petito’s death itself, saying: “It is my understanding the arrest warrant for Brian Laundrie is related to activities occurring after the death of Gabby Petito and not related to her actual demise.”

On 2 October, David Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County in Florida, claimed more serious criminal charges against Mr Laundrie would be “extremely likely” if he was found alive.

Defending his office for not filing charges against Mr Laundrie, he said “prosecutors have a higher burden to prove cases beyond any reasonable doubt”.

Asked by News Nation Now why Mr Laundrie hadn’t been charged with a more serious crime at that point in the disappearance and death of the YouTuber, Mr Aronberg added: “I think that’s coming.”

Social media under scrutiny

Prior to setting out on their road trip on 2 July, Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie had saved up money and quit their jobs to travel across the US as part of a growing neo-hippie movement of “van lifers”, who eschew a convential lifestyle in search of freedom and adventure.

Their Instagram accounts documented parts of their trip, with the first post appearing on the day of their departure. They posted about Kansas’ Monument Rocks, Colorado Springs, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce National Park in Utah and Canyonlands National Park as their journey progressed.

“Downsizing our life to fit into this itty bitty van was the best decision we’ve ever made,” Mr Laundrie wrote on Instagram that month. “Sacrificing space to wake up in nature every day has been no sacrifice at all.”

It was these posts that inspired enormous interest in the case and were seized on by an army of online sleuths who joined the effort to help locate Ms Petito when she was first declared missing.

They pored over her Instagram posts, searching for any inconsistencies, clues or possible causes for concern.

She last posted a photo on her Instagram account on 26 August, a picture of herself in front of a butterfly mural with a small knitted pumpkin in her hand and the caption “happy halloween”.

Her previous post, on 19 August, showed the view of a park from inside her van.

Unlike her usual posts, neither of these two featured a location tag.

Some Instagram users pointed out that this was not her usual style and that her hair appeared to have been freshly dyed in the photo.

Mr Laundrie’s social media accounts have also been attracting significant attention.

Mr Laundrie’s ‘Til death do us part’ comment’ has attracted significant interest from online followers of the case (Instagram)
Mr Laundrie’s ‘Til death do us part’ comment’ has attracted significant interest from online followers of the case (Instagram)

A Pinterest page suspected of being Mr Laundrie’s is offering new clues into his state of mind in the weeks before his girlfriend’s disappearance.

One image being shared widely shows a sketch of ghostly figures, a gravestone and text scattered throughout which reads “let her go, let her go, God bless her, wherever she may be”. It is taken from the 1933 Betty Boop cartoon Snow White, in which Cab Calloway sings “St James Infirmary Blues”, whose lyrics the post contains.

In a separate post, text at the bottom of an image reads: “Don’t try to find me,” and “I have finally escaped my ‘master’s’ wicked clutches. To the others I say: JOIN ME. Bite the hand that feeds you. Vive La Liberte.”

Another folder entitled “Life Goals” shared by Mr Laundrie, was co-authored by his mother and Ms Petito, who appeared to be using it to make plans for the couple’s wedding.

On Instagram, Brian Laundrie generally presented himself as an outdoorsman, a devoted boyfriend and an artist with conspiratorial leanings.

Human remains found alongside belongings in Florida search for Brian Laundrie

Police found partial human remains inside the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on Wednesday, 20 October, near where items belonging to Brian Laundrie, including his backpack and notebook, were found earlier in the day. Mr Laundrie’s parents visited the park to examine the items. The Sarasota medical examiner was called to the scene, as were human remains detecting dogs.

A large tent was erected at the park where the clothes were found. The clothes were found shortly after Mr Laundrie’s parents joined law enforcement to search the park on Wednesday morning.

The FBI later made a statement explaining that the findings were in an area that had previously been underwater and said: “The team will be on the scene for several days,” adding that law enforcement were working “diligently” to confirm the identity of the remains.

A day later the remains were confirmed to be his.

“On 21 October, 2021, a comparison of dental records confirmed that the human remains found at the T Mabry Carlton, Jr Memorial Reserve and Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park are those of Brian Laundrie,” tweeted the FBI’s Denver office.

Mr Laundrie’s parents, who have been under fire throughout the case for perceived lack of cooperation, released a statement via their lawyer, sayin“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the remains found yesterday in the reserve are indeed Brian’s,” said Mr Bertolino in a statement.

“We have no further comment at this time and we ask you respect the Laundrie family’s privacy at this time.”

Cause of death

Brian Laundrie died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, family attorney Steven Bertolino revealed on 23 November.

“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was suicide,” Mr Bertolino said in a statement.

“Chris and Roberta are still mourning the loss of their son and are hopeful that these findings bring closure to both families.”

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