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All American Girl: The Disappearance of Gabby Petito

Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.

Gabby Petito went missing during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. She was last heard from in late August 2021. Photo courtesy of Instagram.

Gabby Petito went missing during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. She was last heard from in late August 2021. Photo courtesy of Instagram.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, 22, from Long Island, New York, was adventurous and a free spirit who embarked on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie at the end of July.

After mapping out an epic sightseeing trip, on July 2, 2021, Gabby and Brian left New York and were expected to arrive in Oregon in November.

Gabby had kept in touch with her family several times a week but suddenly the calls and texts stopped. Her mother spoke to Gabby on August 25 and received several texts afterward but she was unable to confirm the texts were actually coming from Gabby.

The converted camper van Gabby Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie were traveling cross-country in. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

The converted camper van Gabby Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie were traveling cross-country in. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

They were traveling in Gabby's white 2012 Ford Transit van with Florida plates. They were last known to be in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park in late August when she last had contact with her family.

Strangely, on September 1, 2021, Brian returned to his home in North Port, Florida, where he and Gabby had been living in his parent’s home. The thing is, he was driving Gabby's van and Gabby was nowhere to be found.

Gabby’s parents, fraught with worry, filed a missing person report on September 11, after not hearing from their daughter.

Not Cooperating

Brian has not cooperated with police and the Laundrie family has retained an attorney who issued a statement on September 14, 2021.

“This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family,” said Steven Bertolino, the attorney representing the Laundrie family.” 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 reunited with her family,” the statement continued. “On the advice of counsel, the Laundrie family is remaining in the "background" at this juncture and will have no further comment.”

Staying in the “background” of a major national news story and the desperate search for Gabby may be difficult, however.

Laundrie’s family has refused to let him speak to investigators, according to the North Port Police Department.

“We showed up. We see the vehicle. We take the vehicle,” Josh Taylor, spokesperson for North Port Police told the Insider. “We make an attempt to talk with Brian, and his family declined to make him available, and they gave us the information for his attorney.”

Joe Petito appeared on Fox to plea for help to find his daughter, Gabby Petito.

Joe Petito appeared on Fox to plea for help to find his daughter, Gabby Petito.

Joe Petito, Gabby’s father, appeared on Fox America’s Newsroom to respond to the Laundrie family’s statement.

“That wasn’t a statement. I’m sorry. That’s not a statement,” Joe told Fox host Bill Hemmer.

“Forget Brian, Brian’s home safe. His parents, yeah, it’s hard for them. Bull---. You know what? My daughter is not here. Our daughter is not here. We don’t even know what state she is in,” said Joe.

On September 15, 2021, law enforcement officials named Brian Laundrie as a “person of interest” in the missing person case.

“Every day the search for Gabby continues and the Schmidt and Petito family become more desperate,” Richard Stafford, the attorney representing Gabby’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, said in a statement. “They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter’s disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home.”

Stafford went on to say,” 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.”

Nicole Schmidt talks to the media with a picture of her missing daughter, Gabby Petito. Photo courtesy of David Wexler for DailyMail.com.

Nicole Schmidt talks to the media with a picture of her missing daughter, Gabby Petito. Photo courtesy of David Wexler for DailyMail.com.

In an exclusive interview with DailyMail, Gabby’s mother Nicole stated that she had reached out to Brian’s mother and Brian by text on September 10 but received no reply.

“I knew something was wrong,” said Nicole. “I felt something was off and I needed to get her reported missing immediately.”

Traveling the West

The couple chronicled their travels on Instagram and YouTube. They shared pictures and videos of adventuring, camping, and cooking at various scenic spots along their travels.

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie together in Utah in early August. One of the last photos posted to Gabby's Instagram account. Photo courtesy of Instagram.

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie together in Utah in early August. One of the last photos posted to Gabby's Instagram account. Photo courtesy of Instagram.

Fox News reported that officers were called for an incident involving Gabby and Brian about two weeks before she went missing and a month before she was reported missing to police. They were in Moab, Utah.

“Our officers did respond to an incident involving Brian Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito on August 12 however, neither Brian nor Gabrielle was the reporting party,” Moab Chief of Police Bret Edge told Fox News. “Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges.”

Police referred to the incident between them as a mental health crisis and no one had been physically injured. Gabby and Brian agreed to be separated for the night to reset their emotions. The officer offered a hotel room to Brian with the assistance of a crisis center and Gabby slept in her van.

The following day they headed out on their travels again.

Social Media

The news of Gabby's disappearance has traveled worldwide, prompting real public interest in the case.

Gabby and Brian appear to have shared accounts at "Nomadic Statik" on Spotify. Even her song choices on Spotify have come under public scrutiny. They are described as introspective and haunting.

Gabby Petito went missing in late August 2021, while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie.

Gabby Petito went missing in late August 2021, while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie.

Her mother talked to the DailyMail about her daughter’s love of adventure, saying her daughter had just started her own YouTube Channel to chronicle her travels with her love and best friend. The channel has over 650,000 views. Some surely caused by the news coverage she has received since she went missing.

Gabby Petito eating a snack in the back of her travel van. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

Gabby Petito eating a snack in the back of her travel van. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

“She just fell in love with that lifestyle and wanted to take journeys. She was a free spirit,” Nicole told Daily Mail. “Everybody was jealous, everyone was like, we want to do that too, but we all think we just have to get a job and go to school. But she was doing what we were all envious of.”

Her Instagram account briefly went dark on Wednesday—angering her family as their goal is to keep Gabby in the public eye. A representative of Facebook, who owns Instagram said the account was closed in error and reinstated shortly thereafter.

“No matter what, it should be up,” her father, Joe Petito, told the Post. “People need to see those Instagrams as a source of information. People need to see her face.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has set up a national hotline for tips. If you have any information about the whereabouts of Gabby Petito, please call 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).

© 2021 Kym L Pasqualini

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