Family members and police are searching for a New York woman who was travelling across the United States with her partner before being reported missing. Her partner returned home without her and no one has heard from her in weeks.
Gabby Petito, 22, of Blue Point, Long Island, was last seen on 24 August when she checked out of a Salt Lake City hotel with her partner of two and half years, Brian Laundrie. She was reported missing by her family on the evening of 11 September, said police.
Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie had been documenting their travel experiences as ‘van-lifers’ across the US on a YouTube channel called ‘Nomadic Statik’. She would regularly FaceTime her mother, but her mother grew worried when she hadn’t heard from her for days and notified the authorities.
On Wednesday, North Port Police in Florida revealed Mr Laundrie was a “person of interest” in the case.
They said Mr Laundrie had returned to Florida alone in the van on September 1, 10 days before his girlfriend was reported missing.
Here is everything we know about the case:
In a press release, Suffolk County Police Department explained that Gabby’s family were last in contact with her at the end of August. According to her mum, Gabby would FaceTime around three times a week. Her mum received text messages on 26 and 27 August from her daughter’s phone but said she could not be sure they were from her daughter. “I don’t know if it was technically her or not, because it was just a text. I didn’t verbally speak to her,” she said in an interview with CBS News.
Prior to the last communication, Ms Petito is believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Ms Petito’s mother Nicole Schmidt told Fox News the pair were heading for Yellowstone National Park next, but Ms Petito did not arrive. “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.
Her mother Nicole Schmidt told the Daily Mail that on September 10 she tried texting Brian and his mother Roberta Laundrie on September 10 but they had did not respond.
Gabrielle Petito was reported missing to the Suffolk County Police Department by her family on 11 September around 6.55pm.
Mr Laundrie has since returned to his Florida home without Gabby. Police have since recovered the couple’s 2012 Ford Transit van.
Police in Florida, where the couple had lived previously, said the circumstances of her disappearance “appeared odd”.
“The North Port Police Department is actively assisting in this case in conjunction with the Suffolk County Police Department where she was reported missing,” said the department in a statement. “The Suffolk County Police Department is investigating the disappearance of a Blue Point woman who went missing while travelling.”
Utah police revealed officers were called to an “incident” involving Ms Petito and her boyfriend just two weeks before she was last seen or heard from.
Moab’s chief of police Bret Edge told Fox News: “Our officers did respond to an incident involving Brian Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito on 12 August 2021, however neither Brian or Gabrielle were the reporting party.”
He said officers conducted an investigation and found insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges.
‘Person of interest’
On Wednesday, North Port Police named Brian Laundrie as a “person of interest” in the case.
“As of now Brian Laundrie has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators or has provided any helpful details,” the Florida police department said in a statement.
“We know Brian returned here to North Port on September 1st – 10 days before her family reported her missing on September 11th.
“We have no information that a crime occurred here in North Port. Brian Laundrie is a person of interest in this case,” the statement said.
North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said: “As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby’s family is going through.
“We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks.
“The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out.
“We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved with her disappearance,” Mr Garrison said in a statement.
They released several images of the Ford Transit van the couple had been travelling in, and appealed for sightings.
“So far, we have received hundreds of tips which are being vetted through multiple agencies,” the statement said.
The van has a Florida license plate QFTG03 and asked people to call a national hotline set up by the FBI on 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).
North Port Police are leading the investigation with assistance from the FBI. Suffolk County Police in Long Island, New York, where Ms Petito’s mother reported her missing, is also working on the investigation.
North Point Police spokesman Josh Taylor told The Independent on Tuesday Mr Laundrie’s parents had refused to allow officers to speak to him, and had given them contact information for the family’s attorney.
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.
“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,” Mr Taylor said.
Later that day an attorney for the Laundrie family 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.
“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 re-united 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.”
Ms Petito’s family are leading the search for her. Gabby’s mum, Nichole Schmidt, did a news conference on 13 September. “As a mom, I had concerns about a daughter going on a road trip in general,” Ms Schmidt said. “But I felt safe … they had a plan, an itinerary, and we were excited for them.”
Addressing Gabby directly, her father Joseph Petito said: “Gabby, we just want you to come home,” he urged. “Call us. Let us know you’re OK. Come home, please.”
Her father told Newsday that the family was suffering greatly since her disappearance: “It’s like drowning with your hands tied behind you. You can’t describe it. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t control anything,” he said.
“Pride isn’t an issue right now. My only daughter is missing,” he said. “I’m going to do, the family, Gabby’s mom, we’re going to do anything we can to find her.”
The search for Ms Petito appears to be focussing on the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the last place she is believed to have been seen.
Ms Schmidt’s husband and son have posed two missing person posters on their Instagram accounts as well as a picture of Ms Petito, to help in the search for her. Both said they were unable to “comment any further because there is an active investigation”.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with their search, and pay for investigators and travel costs. It has so far received contributions of more than $25,000.
Her stepfather James Schmidt was heading from Long Island to Wyoming on Tuesday to join the search for Ms Petito.
A family friend, Gary Rider, told The Independent: “We plan on meeting with investigators and back-tracking known locations and hoping to help verify some information we have received through tips and the investigation.”
Social media posts
The couple had saved their money and quit their jobs to travel across the US. Their Instagram accounts documented parts of their trip, with the first post on 2 July. 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.
“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.”
Ms Petito’s Instagram account was mysteriously disabled before being reinstated on Wednesday, adding to the family’s distress.
Their attorney told WABC-TV: “We have no idea who deleted Gabby’s Instagram account.
“We contacted Instagram and the FBI to let them know that it was deleted.”
North Port Police said it was looking into how the Instagram page was taken down.
Ms Petito is described as a white female, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, and a triangle tattoo on her left arm, two finger tattoos, and one on her forearm that reads “let it be.” She also has a belly button piercing.
Detectives are asking those with information on Petito’s disappearance can contact Crime Stoppers anonomoysly on 1-800-220-TIPS.