Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old Blue Point native, set out on a cross-country trip with her fiance this summer, documenting the journey in what she called the start of their nomadic “van life” together — but she hasn’t been heard from since.
She posted online about how the couple converted her 2012 white Ford transit van into their home on the road as they stopped at national parks across several Western states starting in June. That is, until her family last heard from her in late August and filed a missing person’s report with the Suffolk County Police Department on Sept. 11.
“I love the van,” she said in an eight-minute video detailing their trip that was posted to YouTube three weeks ago. The video stood in stark contrast to another that police in Utah released on Thursday of an August roadside encounter with Petito tearfully describing a dispute she had on the trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie, who since been named a person of interest in her disappearance after he returned home on Sept. 1 to North Port, Fla. without her.
Petito had billed herself online as a new recruit to the 140,000 Americans living in vehicles estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau, a lifestyle popularized by the 2020 film Nomadland that won an Oscar for best picture.
But now, Laundrie has refused to speak with investigators about Petito’s whereabouts, frusterating North Port Police in Florida, who became the primary agency handling the investigation, with Suffolk police offering assistance and the FBI also joining the search.
“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 statement. “We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks.”
He added that Laundrie’s withholding of information is “hindering this investigation” and that “the answers will eventually come out.”
According to Facebook, Petito attended Bayport-Blue Point High School, while police said that she most recently lived with Laundrie and his parents in North Port, Fla. In an Instagram post from July 2020, Laundrie wrote “Till death do us part or until I wake up, I’m so happy the answer was yes, Love you hunny.”
Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, of Blue Point, said her last telephone call with Petito was on Aug. 25, when it was believed that Petito was at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming with Laundrie.
Her van, adorned with bumber stickers that include a flowery silhouette of Long Island and another from Bunger surf shop in Sayville, has since been confiscated and processed for evidence by police. Petito and Laundrie documented what was meant to be just the “beginning of our van life journey” on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.
Their YouTube video shows Gabby running on a beach, eating sushi, sitting on swings with Laundrie at a park, making yogurt at a campsite, and braving rainy weather in a tent, where they said they were camping in Utah in July.
“So me and Brian just got up, got ready, made the bed in the tent, set up,” she says, talking to the camera in the video, which was posted on Aug. 19. “I think our plan for the day is to just hang out here in the tent…” The camera then pans to Laundrie who is outside the tent. “Some morning yoga,” Petito says.
Petito’s most recent social media post was on Instagram: a photo of her holding a crocheted pumpkin in front of a black, white, and orange mural. “Happy Halloween,” she wrote.
Since then, her family has not heard from her. It seems the couple had planned to keep a travel blog documenting their trip and offering travel advice.
“Follow our van life journey for some awesome van life ideas, tips, hacks, camping spots, and so many beautiful places to travel!” reads the description of the YouTube video. In that description, they also explain that they’d decided on “living nomadically” and “wanted to downsize our lives and travel full time.”
The video also gave a tour of the back of the van — a small bed taking up most of the space, adorned with fake plants, books on a back shelf, and photos.
But the video of the hour-long Aug. 12 roadside encounter with police in Utah, in which the two were questioned separately, painted a less rosey picture, although it did not result in charges against either of them. In the footage, Petito and Laundrie described a quarrel that they said occasionally became mildly physical to Moab, Utah, police who stopped their van after receiving a complaint about a domestic disturbance.
Petito’s disappearance and Laundrie’s refusal to discuss it have developed into a nationwide mystery that police say they are working day and night to solve. At a news conference on Thursday, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said the Utah video was unlikely to help investigators.
“Yes, they had a disturbance, yes, it was captured on a body camera – their interaction with law enforcement — but beyond that, I don’t know what it has to do with the disappearance,” Garrison said.
Although attention has focused on Laundrie, Garrison said police are treating the disappearance as a missing person case.
“Two people went on a trip, one person returned, and that person that returned isn’t providing us any information,” he said. Investigators were sifting through a large amount of information for clues, he added.
Laundrie’s attorney, Steven Bertolino, defended his client’s silence in a statement on Wednesday, saying anything he said could be used against him, “regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance.”
Garrison and Gabby’s father, Joe Petito, appealed to anyone with information about her whereabouts to come forward. The Petito’s family attoreny, Richard Stafford, issue astatement calling on the Laundrie family to start cooperating.
“We beleive you know the location where Brian left Gabby,” the statement reads. “We beg you to tell us … All we want is Gabby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”
In the Moab video, an often upset Petito blamed their dispute in part on her obsessive compulsive disorder, while Laundrie told officers “we just had a little disagreement there.”
Petito said she had hit Laundrie in the arm, and Laundrie said he had put his hand on her face to push her away.
The encounter ended with officers telling the couple that they would be placed in separate lodging for the night.
“I want you guys to stay away from each other,” an officer tells Petito. “From what you told me, what he told me, you guys have a bunch of little things that are building and building.”
A national hotline is accepting tips for anyone to come forward with information on Petito’s location: 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).
-With Reuters and Timothy Bolger