22-year-old Gabby Petito Murdered on Road Trip

Police search for fiancé, 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, missing since September 14th.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mia Villavicencio, Staff Writer

Nearly a month after 22-year-old Gabrielle Petito went missing on a cross-country van trip with her fiancé, 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, her body was found in a watery area inside Grand Teton National Park in western Wyoming. An autopsy on September 21st confirmed her identity and pinpointed the cause of death as homicide.

On July 2nd, 2021, Petito and Laundrie took off on an adventurous van trip across the United States with the goal of visiting the most scenic national parks and landmarks. However, following a series of suspicious Instagram posts and text messages at the end of August, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida on September 1st with the van, but Petito was nowhere to be found. The case has since drawn much attention because of its documentation on social media, and most of the Internet is convinced that Brian Laundrie is the culprit.

Petito and Laundrie met in high school and had been dating for two years before announcing their engagement on July 2nd, 2020, on Instagram. They shared a love for nature and travel, as mentioned on their Instagram accounts (@gabspetito, @bizarre_design), YouTube channel, and website. At the beginning of the summer, the couple took Petito’s van (pictured below) on what was supposed to be a four-month road trip across the southwestern US. They both posted several photos on Instagram along with a vlog on their YouTube documenting their trip. 

This trip was going smoothly until August 12th, when a witness reported a “domestic problem” between Laundrie and Petito to the police in Moab, Utah. According to the Moab Police Department, Petito’s van was pulled over after hitting a curb near the entrance to Arches National Park. The police shared a bodycam video revealing a distressed Petito. She dismissed their concern, saying that they had “just been fighting this morning–some personal issues,” according to The Guardian. The two were separated for the night to prevent further disputes. The situation did not start to raise suspicion until August 30th, when Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, received a text from her daughter that read “No service in Yosemite.” This message was especially peculiar because Petito and Laundrie were visiting Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and their next stop was Yellowstone National Park, not Yosemite (almost 800 miles west of Grand Teton). Schmidt told the New York Post that she does not believe the text is from her daughter. 

Roughly three days after Petito’s mother received that text, Laundrie was seen alone at his home in North Port, Florida, in Petito’s white van. Ten days later, Petito’s family reported her missing to the police department. They grew more suspicious as Laundrie wasn’t concerned about the whereabouts of his fiancée. 

Embed from Getty Images

Naturally, police identified Laundrie as a “person of interest” for Petito’s disappearance, since he was the last known person seen with her before she went missing. However, investigating Laundrie proved to be rather difficult since neither he nor his family was willing to say anything to the police. According to his family’s lawyer, Steven Bertolino, Laundrie had been exercising his constitutional right not to speak to authorities and told them to speak only to his attorney.

On September 17th, Laundrie’s parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, called the police to their home and told them Brian had gone missing. According to Mr. and Mrs. Laundrie, they had not seen their son since September 14th. It is also suspicious that it took them three days to report his disappearance, according to The U.S. Sun

Despite the police’s strong efforts to find Petito, the most crucial tip that ultimately led to her body’s discovery was video footage of her van on a travel vlog on YouTube. On August 27th, five days before Laundrie’s return, family vloggers Red White & Bethune drove past a white van while traveling through Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The video shows a 2012 Ford Transit with Florida license plates parked on the side of the road in the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Land. After reading more on Petito’s story, Jess and Kyle Bethune realized that the van in their video matched the profile of Petito’s van. According to the travel vloggers, “the van was dark and it didn’t look like there was anyone there.” Consequently, they reported their discovery to the police. 

On September 19th, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found human remains believed to be those of Gabby Petito in the Teton National Forest Area in Wyoming. The Bethunes’ footage was a pivotal clue in locating Petito. Petito’s father, Joe Petito, confirmed her identity soon after, and on September 21th, an autopsy formally confirmed that the body was Gabby Petito’s. It also ruled the cause of death to be homicide.

Since then, officials have intensified their measures in the search for Brian Laundrie. The Laundrie family remains uncooperative and have said nothing despite desperate pleas from the Petitos and the rest of the country. The F.B.I. in Tampa told the New York Times that the police had issued a search warrant to investigate the Laundries’ home in Florida, but they did not reveal much else. Investigators spent days searching a 25,000-acre nature preserve in Florida but found nothing, according to Eyewitness News. A prominent concern is that Brian may no longer be alive, but his social media activity suggests otherwise. As described on Entrepreneur, Brian allegedly went live on Instagram and deleted playlists on Spotify. There have also been several suspected sightings of Laundrie, but none are confirmed. 

Most of the clues point to Laundrie having something to do with Petito’s death, but police have not yet identified him as a primary suspect in the investigation. “There is no question that he’s no longer considered just a person of interest,” former federal prosecutor Stephen Crawford told News Channel 8.  “I think there’s an arrest warrant. I think it’s sealed, but I think it’s out there.”  

With the support of the nation and the watchful eye of the internet, Petito’s family may soon receive some closure.