An Arches National Park ranger warned Gabby Petito that her relationship with Brian Laundrie seemed 'toxic' after their fight in Utah

·4 min read
Gabby Petito Brian Laundrie composite image Moab Police bodycam
A composite image showing Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, from bodycam footage from August 12, 2021 after police in Moab, Utah, stopped their van. Moab Police Department/Insider
  • A national park ranger said she warned Gabby Petito that her relationship with Brian Laundrie seemed "toxic."

  • "I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship," ranger Melissa Hulls told Deseret News.

  • Hulls responded to a call of a domestic indicent between Petito and Laundrie in Utah on August 12.

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A National Park Service ranger who responded to a call of a domestic incident between Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie in Utah warned the young woman at the time that the couple's relationship seemed "toxic."

"I was probably more candid with her than I should've been," ranger Melissa Hulls, the visitor and resource protection officer at Arches National Park, told Deseret News of her conversation with Petito during the aftermath of the August 12 incident

Hulls added, "I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life."

Petito, 22, "had a lot of anxiety about being away from" 23-year-old Laundrie, according to Hulls. 

"I honestly thought if anything was going to change it would be after they got home to Florida," said Hulls. 

Hulls told the news outlet that by the time she responded to the call that day, a visibly distraught Petito was already sitting in the back of a police cruiser. 

gabby petito in back of police cruiser holding water bottle crying
This police camera video provided by the Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito talking to a police officer near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. The Moab Police Department via AP

"I can still hear her voice," Hulls said of Petito, whose body is believed to have been found Sunday at a campsite in Wyoming. "She wasn't just a face on the milk carton, she was real to me."

Officers with Utah's Moab Police Department responded to the incident involving Petito and Laundrie near Arches National Park while the couple was in the midst of a cross-country road trip. 

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The couple told police that they got into an argument in Moab that resulted in Petito slapping Laundrie, a police report and officer body-camera footage released by the Moab Police Department showed. 

But in a 911 call about the same incident obtained by Fox News, a witness can be heard telling dispatchers with the Grand County Sheriff's Office that he saw a man "slapping the girl."

"He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off," the 911 caller said, according to the audio. 

An officer wrote in the police report of the incident that it "wasn't clear," but an initial witness described seeing Laundrie hit Petito.

That same officer wrote in the report that he later found a witness who said 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," according to the police report. 

In police body-camera footage showing the aftermath of the scuffle, officers can be seen considering whether to charge Petito with domestic violence. But they opted not to when she told them she didn't intend to hurt Laundrie. 

Instead, police recommended the two spend the night apart. 

Brian Laundrie in the desert with a cop behind him
This police camera video provided by the Moab Police Department shows Brian Laundrie talking to a police officer during the aftermath of the August 12 incident in Utah. The Moab Police Department via AP

"This wasn't a good day for anybody," Hulls told Deseret News. "We thought we were making the right decision when we left them."

She continued, "I wouldn't have called [the relationship] unsafe. If we had any reason to think any one of them was in danger, we would've separated them."

"It's not that we didn't think he was manipulative, but we have to worry about the safety, and not the psychology of it," Hulls said. "We have to go by the facts that we were faced with at the time, and not let our emotions drive the decision."

Hulls, a 17-year law enforcement ranger, said that she still has not looked at her body-camera footage from that day. 

"It's hard not to second-guess myself, and wish I said more, or wish I had found the right words to make her believe that she deserved more," Hulls said. 

Meanwhile, Florida police said for the first time Tuesday that the case of Petito's disappearance is now officially a "criminal investigation" as authorities continue to search for Laundrie, who remains missing.

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