Van-Life Couple Got Into Physical Fight Days Before 22-Year-Old Vanished, Police Docs Reveal

·8 min read
YouTube
YouTube

A young woman who mysteriously vanished while road tripping across the U.S. with her fiancé got into a physical altercation with him two weeks before he returned to Florida without her, according to a police report obtained by The Daily Beast.

And while the couple’s online postings made the journey appear perfectly idyllic, the strain of having been together nonstop for months on end had in fact escalated tensions between the two, the document provided by the Moab City, Utah, Police Department reveals.

Brian Laundrie, 23, has been named a person of interest in the baffling disappearance of 22-year-old Gabrielle Petito, police announced Wednesday. The two set off on a cross-country trek on July 2, from North Port, Florida. From there, they traveled to the Monument Rocks formation in Kansas, then headed for Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park. Next, the pair went to the Zion, Bryce, and Canyonlands national parks in Utah. Petito’s mother last spoke to Gabby on Aug. 25, while she and Laundrie were at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to the Florida home he shared with his parents and Petito, after the couple’s cross-country journey in a van across the U.S. But Gabby, inexplicably, wasn’t anywhere to be found.

Ten days later, after not hearing from her for more than two weeks, Gabby’s family reported her missing. Police then went to Laundrie’s home and seized Gabby’s customized 2012 Ford Transit Connect van, which the couple was living out of as they visited several national parks. The vehicle was processed for evidence by local cops and FBI agents on Tuesday evening, according to the North Port, Florida, Police Department.

On Tuesday night, Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge released a statement revealing that officers on Aug. 12 responded to an “incident involving Brian Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito.” Neither of them was “the reporting party,” according to Edge.

“Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges,” the statement said.

However, previously unknown details revealed in the report itself paint a fuller picture of what happened that day.

“On 08/12/21, MCPD officers were dispatched to a report of a domestic problem that had taken place near the Moonflower Co-op,” the report explains. “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.”

When cops showed up, witnesses said they had seen Laundrie attempting to “create distance by telling Gabby to go take a walk to calm down,” the report states. Laundrie reportedly grabbed Gabby’s face at one point after she began slapping him, but Laundrie did not strike Gabby, according to witnesses. One bystander told cops that Laundrie seemed to have locked Gabby out of her van, and that she appeared to be hitting him in the arm and trying to climb inside through the driver’s window. The fight had apparently erupted over dispute involving a phone, the report states.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Moab City PD</div>
Moab City PD

Gabby, who said she feared Laundrie was going to leave her behind in Moab, suffered from “severe anxiety,” the pair told police, who categorized the incident as more of a “mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault,” in their report. The two said they were “in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.”

The couple had been pulled over for speeding that same evening by another officer, who interviewed both of them separately. Gabby, who was “crying uncontrollably,” according to the report, said that she “suffers from [redacted] with [redacted]. She continued, because of her [redacted] and [redacted], combined with little arguments she and Brian had been having that day, she was struggling with her mental health, which led to the incident that was reported to law enforcement.”

Laundrie told the officer that he and Gabby “both suffer from [redacted], and although her [redacted] is more advanced than his, issues between the two had been building over the last few days. This in turn, caused them to argue more than usual,” the report states.

Laundrie explained that the two had been traveling together for the past four or five months, and that this had “created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments.”

The officer was able to get Laundrie a hotel room for the night, and Gabby kept the van. They agreed not to contact one another until the next morning, which would allow them to “reset their mental states.”

Neither one was seriously injured, and no charges were filed.

In what may or may not be a coincidence, a couple living out of their van in Moab, Kylen Schulte and Crystal Beck, went missing on Aug. 13—after complaining to friends about a “weirdo” who had set up camp right near them. Schulte—who worked at the Moonflower Co-op, where Gabby and Laundrie were seen fightingand Beck were found murdered a few days later. No suspects have been publicly identified and no arrests have been made in the case.

“As of now, Brian has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators or has provided any helpful details,” the North Port PD said in a statement issued Wednesday, adding, “Brian Laundrie is a person of interest in this case.”

Laundrie will continue to stonewall investigators as they try desperately to solve the case, according to his lawyer.

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast following the North Port PD’s announcement, Laundrie’s Long Island, New York-based lawyer, Steven Bertolino, said that the “formality” of being named a person of interest hasn’t really changed anything about Laundrie’s situation, since he was already the focus of detectives. And he’s still not planning to say a word.

“Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito’s absence,” Bertolino said in an email. “In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this and the warning that ‘any statement made will be used against you’ is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on this matter.”

This ‘Van-Life’ Couple Went on a Cross-Country Trip Out West. Only He Came Back.

Laundrie and his parents, Roberta and Christopher, who own a company that sells and services commercial juicing equipment, were unable to be reached.

Laundrie’s refusal to cooperate has been incredibly frustrating for Gabby’s father, Joe Petito, who moved to Florida in June, partly so he could be closer to his daughter.

“Get out of the house, get into the FBI offices, and start answering some questions,” Petito told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “Do your job as a fiancé, as most would do.”

Petito said he was reluctant to speak negatively of Laundrie in the media because Laundrie is key to finding Gabby.

“My biggest fear is that people overpressure this guy and he hurts himself and then he can’t speak anymore—and then I’ll never find my daughter,” said Petito. “Focus on her, and keep it up until we get her home. I’m begging you of that. No one gives two shits about Brian until we get Gabby home.”

Petito hasn’t heard from Laundrie or his parents, and said he isn’t “anticipating anything” from them.

“As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby’s family is going through,” North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said in a statement. “We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks. The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out. We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved in her disappearance.”

The Laundrie family appears to keep a low profile in their North Port, Florida, neighborhood. Donna Lear, a homeowner who lives a few doors away from the Laundries, said she and her husband have “never seen” Brian Laundrie or his parents in all the years they have resided there. Another neighbor, Andre Obradovich, also said he hasn’t had any interactions with the Laundrie family and was shocked to hear that the young man whose face has been plastered all over the news in recent days is holed up right down the street.

Laundrie’s Instagram profile describes him as a “nature enthusiast” and tells visitors, “Take a hike everyday.”

“Bug bites are better than being brainwashed by the media,” it says.

In a post from last October, Laundrie captioned a picture of himself kissing Gabby: “Never got around to posting these! I’d die just to watch all of our memories on repeat, never loved anyone as much as this girl💕”

Another so-called van-lifer who encountered Gabby and Laundrie while traveling near Moab, Utah, said he never saw any signs of trouble between the two.

“They were holding hands, they were ecstatic about their rebuild,” Jaye Foster told The Daily Beast. “That’s what I find so weird about the whole situation, is that they were both really cool. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong whatsoever.”

The pair said they were headed to Yellowstone next, according to Foster.

“She was such a cool person,” he said. “He was too. That’s what’s freaking me out. They seemed totally fine. What sucks is that I couldn’t see him doing anything like that. It’s crazy as hell. It really, really is.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here

Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!

Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting