Gabby Petito: The hunt for Justice

Pepper spray. Penknife. Wedged keys between white knuckles. Eyes trained low and hurried steps. These are a list of basic things the average woman has memorized close to muscle memory. These are the things women are trained to understand and adopt as a means to survive in a world where violence and assault are about as common as tripping on your own two feet out of crowded spaces. However, it seems that these perpetrators of violence against women extend beyond just creepy strangers on the street. Sometimes danger lurks nearer than one might believe. Or worse, it might just be the least suspected or most trusted ones that end up washing their guilt-stained hands with bleach. Such is the tragic case of the killing of Gabby Petito.

Who are they?

Known to the public as Gabby Petito after being reported missing by her mother, Nichole Schmidt on 11 September 2021, Gabrielle Venora Petito was on a van life journey across the United States and had been documenting her trip on her Instagram account which has more than 1.3 million followers. Joining her on her van life journey was the love of her life and fiancee, Brian Laundrie. While both of them studied in the same school, Bayport-Blue point High School in New York, they only started dating in 2019 and got engaged in July 2020.

Timeline of the Events

Marriage. Brian Laundrie posted on Instagram a seemingly sweet post of his engagement with Gabby Petito, captioning: “till death do us apart.” This foretells the story of Gabby’s tragic death. 

Gabby and Brian’s First Date

Purchasing a white van and filling it with green plants to make it feel like home. Gabby Petito embarked on a cross country trip with Brian Laundrie to visit the west of the United States where they aimed to see state and national parks.

The trip:

Their trip began on 2nd July 2021 in Hamlet of Blue Point, New York in Suffolk County, Long Island. Next, they were seen on Instagram photos near Monument Rocks, Scott City Kansas, then they went to Colorado Springs. Furthermore, they went to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Reserve Colorado. Next up, she spent 3 nights at Zion National Park Utah hiking and camping, then going to Bryce Canyon National Park Utah. The trip started getting suspicious after posts of the Mystic Springs and barefoot hiking at Arches National Park in Utah were released on Gabby Petito’s social media.

The police received a call of disorderly conduct and pulled them over in Moab City, Utah. First, Brian Laundrie came out and explained (in a webcam footage recording the police’s encounter) that there was a small fight between the honeymoon couple and that Gabby was trying to start a vlog on her youtube channel. Gabby came out as well claiming of her “really bad OCD” making her so frustrated and out of control. The police settled this by bringing Brian to a hotel and Gabby the van keys. 

The following day, Brian posted photos of him in National Park (his Instagram is now deleted), looking cheerful with a melon fruit as if everything was fine. A week after that, Gabby posted another photo on 25th August 2021 but no location was given. Then her first and only youtube video was posted for her vlog. (link below)

Jen Bethune ( a travel blogger ) took a video in Teton County of a van that highly resembled Gabby’s white van although the police have not fully identified the van’s owner. 2 days later on 29th August 2021, Miranda Baker (a third party) posted a video saying she and her boyfriend found a hitchhiker which was claimed to be Brian Laundrie who was on his way to Jackson, from Coulter Bay Village Grand Teton.

Jen Bethune and Gabby Petito’s Van 

Then on 30th August 2021, Gabby’s mother felt something was amiss with the text message Gabby sent and believes it not to be Gabby who sent it. 2 more days later on 1st  September 2021, the police claimed Brian had arrived in Northport, Florida with Gabby’s white van. Brian arrives alone back home, refusing to talk to the police. 

19th September 2021 marks the day Wyoming police authorities report of a body (believed top be Gabby’s) to be found, confirmed on 21st September 2021 that it indeed was her body by her lawyer. The body was discovered in Grand Teton National Park where footage showed of her camping there with her fiance.

The Cover-Up

The refusal of Brian Laundrie and his parents to talk to the police about where Gabby was last seen and also to lawyer up began to raise suspicions amongst members of the public. The one question that was lingering at the back of the public’s minds was, If Gabby was really the love of Brian’s life and they were so excited to get married, why wouldn’t Brian or his parents share any information about her last location with the authorities who are trying their absolute best to find her. 

In addition to that, upon returning home to Florida, Brian Laundrie also decided that it was a good idea to go for a hike at the Carlton Reserve on the 13th September 2021 and was subsequently reported missing by his parents on the 17th September 2021 after he did not return home. At this point, experts began to come up with theories about how long he could possibly survive in the Carlton Reserve, a reserve that is known for its crocs infested swarms. 

With the disappearance of the sole person of interest in this case, more questions were being asked about why and how the Florida state police had handled this case. On one particular occasion, a police officer who was supposed to keep watch of any activities at the Laundrie household, mistakenly reported that Brian was at home having recognised his mother, Roberta Laundrie, who was wearing a baseball cap as him.  

In the weeks leading to when Brian Laundrie’s body was finally found in the Carlton Reserve by his parents, various news outlets gathered outside the Laundrie residence trying to get answers from his parents but none of them ever successfully gained an answer. 

The body of a now-deceased Brian Laundrie was found on the 20th October 2021 and it was identified as him the next day using comparisons of dental records. His body was not discovered by any of the authorities who had been searching at the Carlton reserve for weeks but instead was found by his parents who directed the FBI agents and North Port Police towards the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park where some articles belonging to Brian were found. 

Legalities

Although Brian Laundrie, the sole suspect for the killing of Gabby Petito, was found dead by suicide (as shown by autopsy results), legal experts have mentioned that other people may also be charged in relation to the case. The Petito family attorney has stated that Laundrie’s parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie could face charges on the grounds of 18 U.S.C 3 which states accessory after the fact: Whoever, knowing that an offence against the United States has been committed, receives, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact. Being charged under 18 U.S.C 1519 is also possible as it states obstruction of terms if any evidence after the offence was committed has been tampered with.

It should also be noted that upon the missing person report of Brian Laundrie, Chris and Roberta turned in all of their guns to law enforcers; however, one gun appeared to be missing. This gives reason for experts like forensic scientist Larry Koblinsky to believe that the Laundries might get into legal trouble “with respect to aiding and abetting Brian Laundrie (in) evading detection, running away from the police.”

Others believe that it is strikingly easy to suspect that it was the parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, that helped Laundrie possibly get rid of the evidence of the crime and plan his convenient disappearance. However, these assumptions still remain hanging in the air as there has been no conclusive evidence proving such.

Proof of murder

Now, the main truth lies in the proof of Gabby’s murder. 

Gabby is dead, it’s hard to deny. However, the real interest is in who is the murderer. The prime suspect and also the main cause of conspiracy theories is Brian Laundrie.

Gabby died of strangulation according to the Wyoming coroner of homicide. Quarrelling between the couple was serious enough that the police had to separate them. 


The OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) that Gabby talked about did not exist, as her father confirmed she had always been free-spirited and never diagnosed with it. 

Gabby’s friends have confirmed that Brian had been joking and play-strangling Gabby before. Her OCD might have been convinced into her by Brian Laundrie. There is a video on Brian Laundrie’s body language that shows how he was lying about something when the police pulled their van over in Utah.

Police on Gabby’s side said no one who pleads not guilty will come back without the (dead) after spending Gabby’s debit card money and refusing to talk to the police at all. 

However, now with Brian Laundrie’s death of suicide by gunshot after being missing in Carlton Reserve, Sarasota, the defendant lawyer (Laundrie’s lawyer) will have new argument for the case. The only thing that is certain is the cause and manner of Gabby’s death – manual strangulation.

Assumed Motives: Domestic Violence

In light of the unfortunate death of Gabby Petito, many people theorized that the main reason for the conflict between Laundrie and Petito involved domestic violence, specifically against Gabby Petito. People began to analyse the domestic violence laws in America and its undeniable limits. The scrutiny placed on these laws has opened eyes to the importance of victim protection in such situations and the apparent lack of education on the dynamics of domestic violence. 

There was a body camera footage captured by police officers after the supposed altercation between the two in Moab, Utah where Brian Laundrie was seen slapping Gabby Petito. What should’ve been a clear indicator of who was the true instigator of the fight quickly became confusing as it was Petito who was weeping and apologizing profusely as she admitted to “scratching and hitting her partner”. Contrastingly, Laundrie was seen to be calmly chatting and joking with the officers. Based on this interaction, it was Petito who was identified as the aggressor and not Laundrie. However, despite this conflict, she was not charged with any crime. 

This situation prior to her death brought to light how difficult it can be for law enforcers to assess and understand other people’s relationships, especially when domestic violence is involved. Experts like Ruth Glenn, CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Evan Stark, director of the Masters of Public Health program Rutgers University have mentioned how “Most acts of domestic violence are things that fall below the radar, specifically the legal radar.”

While physical violence is an obvious indicator of abuse and can be criminalized, subtler forms of abuse like coercive control and emotional abuse are also just as, if not more serious than physical violence. Coercive control can look like love to outsiders when in reality a person may have sole control of their spouse’s savings and can use them to their own advantage. They may even deprive them of making important decisions that can affect their livelihood. The problem with this is that the only form of abuse that is seen as legitimate and can be criminalised is limited to only physical abuse. This leaves victims vulnerable in such situations of coercive control which may escalate to more fatal consequences. 

European countries such as Scotland, England and Wales already criminalize psychological abuse and coercive control in addition to physical abuse, pertaining to domestic violence. It has also been brought to light that perhaps if law enforcement officers knew what kind of questions to ask Petito and Laundrie the night of their fight, the situation may have turned out differently.

Gabby Petito’s family grief + foundation + mural 

Gabby’s family is absolutely grief-stricken by their loss. Gabby’s mother said she did worry for her daughter on the trip but believed Brian would take good care of her as he was well-liked by the Petito family. 

The family has set up a Gabby Petito foundation which is a site for people to share stories so that no one is alone. The site sells iPhone cases, Sweatshirts, Shirts, Accessories and Stickers. 

This is the mural in honour of Gabby Petito painted which can be seen on the walls of South Shore and Brooklyn of the Mazzei & Blair Plaza in Blue Point. Painted by Tess Parker, an artist who focuses on therapy, it has garnered attention and sympathy as well as admiration for Gabby’s ethereal eyes and bubbly personality. The wings that are painted behind her portrait shows that she is now an angel in a better place. 

Foundation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PStpXFEfIs – Gabby’s only vlog

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4MzXIPCOR4 – Timeline

The death of Gabby Petito is devastating but it has also been able to help raise awareness about domestic violence. The release of the bodycam footage when they were pulled over in Moab City, Utah has now been interpreted by various experts in the field who try to explain to the public the signs the authorities have missed. Since then, the Gabby Petito case has been said to highlight a problem that currently plagues America as well as other countries in the world: Domestic Violence is widely Misunderstood. Deaths caused by domestic violence are preventable if accurate steps are taken. If you or anybody you know is struggling with domestic violence, here are a few helplines for you: 

  1. Women’s Aid Organisation 

WAO Hotline: +603 3000 8858 (24 hours)

SMS/WhatsApp TINA: +6018 988 8058 (24 hours)

  1. Talian Kasih 

hotline (15999) or Whatsapp (0192615999)

Written by: Hannah, Sumitra, Twis 

Edited by: Jamie

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