MOAB, Utah, Sept. 16, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — The father of missing woman Gabrielle Petito pleaded for help in locating her in a press conference in North Port, Florida Thursday morning.
Petito, 22, was driving across country with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, with stops in Utah and Wyoming. The couple was shooting a YouTube travel video as part of their adventure.
The Long Island woman, who also posted Instagram photos of her Rocky Mountain travels, was last heard from in late August.
Laundrie was named a person of interest Wednesday morning.
Due to Petito and Laundrie residing in North Port, Florida, the North Port Police Department is the primary investigating agency, in partnership with the FBI.
Petito’s father Joe told assembled reporters: “What I need from everybody here is help. The goal is to bring Gabby home safely. I’m asking for help from everyone here, I’m asking for help from everyone at home. I’m asking for help from the parents of Brian, and I’m asking for help from the family members and friends of the Laundrie family as well. Whatever you can do to make sure my daughter comes home, I am asking for that help.”
North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told reporters Thursday morning: “In June of 2021, Gabby and her fiance embarked on a cross-country trip with plans to travel across the west coast and visit state and national parks in the western United States. They were traveling in Gabby’s 2012 white Ford van.
Garrison said Petito maintained regular contact with her family members during her travels, but that communication “abruptly stopped” around the end of August. Prior to the last communication, she was believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
“We have investigators working diligently around the clock, as well as with the FBI,” Garrison said.
Petito’s vehicle was recovered in North Port at her home on Sept. 11; a home shared with Laundrie and his parents.
The news release added that officials know Laundrie returned to North Port on Sept. 1, 10 days before Petito’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11. He is still in North Port.
Garrison then added that at this point, this is being classified as a missing person’s case.
“We share the frustration with the world right now,” Garrison added. “Two people went on a trip and one person returned, and that person isn’t providing us any information.”
He said at this point, officials cannot officially bring Laundrie in for questioning.
Garrison said Nort Port officers are working with southern Utah officials, as Petito and Laundrie had some kind of altercation in Moab on Aug. 12, but it is not clear how that incident relates to the woman’s disappearance, if at all.
He said there are no physical search teams on the ground doing grid searches right now, but resources and law enforcement partners are following up on tips and leads.
“We’re still trying to narrow down geographic areas.”
A Moab police report confirms officers encountered Petito and Laundrie after reports of a domestic incident back on Aug. 12.
Moab Police Chief Bret Edge confirmed to Gephardt Daily on Tuesday evening that officers responded to an incident involving Petito and Laundrie on Aug. 12.
“Neither Brian or Gabrielle were the reporting party,” Edge said. “Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges.”
The police report, obtained by Gephardt Daily by way of a public records request, says police responded to an incident involving “disorderly conduct” in the area of 39 E. 400 North at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 12.
The report lists Petito as the suspect and Laundrie as the victim.
“Officers were dispatched to a report of a domestic problem that had taken place near the Moonflower Co-op,” the arresting officer writes. “It appeared that a male and female had left the scene traveling north on Main in a white Ford Transit van with a black ladder on the rear after the male and female had engaged in some sort of altercation. It wasn’t clear, but I believe it was reported the male had been observed to have assaulted the female. I heard other officers report they were off to look for the vehicle, and being that I had to pass the Moonflower in order to get to Main Street, I stopped there to see if any witnesses were still in the area.”
The officer found a witness and took his phone number, but left the scene because the officer heard a second officer tell dispatch he’d located the suspect vehicle near the turn to Arches National Park.
“I heard him state that upon initiating a traffic stop, he’d observed the vehicle leave its lane and strike the curb before stopping near the entrance to the park,” the report says.
The arresting officer subsequently spoke with Laundrie, Petito and the male witness.
“All three individuals gave me a similar and consistent story, consisting of the basic idea that the driver of the van, a male, had some sort of argument with the female, Gabby. The male tried to create distance by telling Gabby to go take a walk to calm down; she didn’t want to be separated from the male, and began slapping him. He grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van. He tried to lock her out and succeeded except for his driver’s door, she opened that and forced her way over him and into the vehicle before it drove off.”
The officer added: “Both the male and female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime. There were no significant injuries reported and both agreed that Gabby suffers from serious anxiety etc. It appeared that this incident was more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault.”
The officer says Laundrie and Petito agreed to separate for the night; Petito retained possession of the van, and Seek Haven, a Moab family crisis center, found a place where Laundrie could spend the night.
No charges were filed. The officer adds that the two did not wish for charges to be filed or for the separation to take place “although that was the minimum (officers) required in lieu of making a case against Gabby for domestic assault.”
The report also describes Laundrie as “older, taller and much heavier” than Petito. “He had no fear for his safety and did not exhibit any indicators that he may be a victim of ‘battered boyfriend syndrome,'” the report says.
A second officer also provided an account of the incident. He wrote that the witness said Laundrie and Petito were arguing over a phone. The witness said that “when Brian got into the van, he saw what appeared to him as Gabrielle hitting Brian in the arm and then climbing through the driver’s window as if Brian had locked her out and she was trying to find a way in,” the officer wrote.
The second officer subsequently located the van near the entrance gate to Arches National Park, traveling approximately 45 miles per hour in a 15 mile per hour zone. The officer initiated a traffic stop, and the van allegedly crossed the double yellow dividing lines, before abruptly swerving to the right, causing both front and rear passenger side wheels to hit the curb. The vehicle then stopped.
The officer then approached the vehicle and found Petito in the passenger seat, “crying uncontrollably.” She told the officer she was “struggling with her mental health,” which led to the incident in Moab that was reported to law enforcement. Petito said she hit Laundrie on the arm to get his attention when the officer attempted a traffic stop, and that caused him to hit the curb. Laundrie, however, told the officer he thought Petito had grabbed the wheel and pulled it when she saw the officer, causing the van to hit the curb. The officer also observed small scratches on Laundrie’s right arm, that he said may have happened when Petito was trying to get his attention about the officer following them.
The officer spoke to Laundrie and Petito in more detail about mental conditions that they both suffer from; these details have been redacted from the report. Laundrie told the officer that neither he nor Petito take medication for the conditions.
After the incident on Main Street in Moab, “he had attempted to separate from her so they could both calm their emotions,” the second officer wrote. “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.” Laundrie said he pushed her away to avoid the slap, but she “still caught Brian’s face with some fingers causing some minor visible scratches.”
The second officer also added about getting Laundrie and Petito separated for the night: “I instructed both Brian and Gabrielle to take advantage of this time apart to relax their emotions and regain control of their anxiety.”
On Tuesday, an attorney hired by the family of Laundrie released a statement.
“This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family,” the attorney’s statement said. “It is our understanding that a search has been organized 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.”
The Petito family released a statement Wednesday morning: “Every day the search for Gabby continues the Schmidt and Petito family becomes more desperate. They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter’s disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home. 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.
“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? You selfishly remain silent while Gabby is all alone in the wilderness. Brian, your silence is reprehensible! We beg you to do the right thing and help us bring Gabby home. Brian, whatever happened in Wyoming, happened. The only thing you can control is what you do now. Tell us where Gabby is. You tarnish your love for her with your silence.”
Petito chronicled her extended travels in YouTube videos, like the one below:
The missing woman is Caucasian, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall, and weighs 110 pounds. She has blond hair, blue eyes, and several tattoos, including one on her finger and one on her forearm that reads “let it be.”
The FBI has set up a national hotline to receive tips: 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).