Family members and police are searching for a New York woman who was travelling across the United States with her partner before being reported missing. Her partner returned home without her and no one has heard from her in weeks.
Gabby Petito, 22, of Blue Point, Long Island, was last seen on 24 August when she checked out of a Salt Lake City hotel with her partner of two and half years, Brian Laundrie, 23. She was reported missing by her family on the evening of 11 September, said police.
Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie had been documenting their travel experiences as ‘van-lifers’ across the US on a YouTube channel called ‘Nomadic Statik’. She would regularly FaceTime her mother, but her mother grew worried when she hadn’t heard from her for days and notified the authorities.
On Wednesday, North Port Police in Florida revealed Mr Laundrie was a “person of interest” in the case.
They said Mr Laundrie had returned to Florida alone in the van on 1 September, 10 days before his girlfriend was reported missing.
Here is everything we know about the case:
In a press release, Suffolk County Police Department explained that Gabby’s family were last in contact with her at the end of August. According to her mum, Gabby would FaceTime around three times a week. Her mum received text messages on 26 and 27 August from her daughter's phone but said she could not be sure they were from her daughter. “I don’t know if it was technically her or not, because it was just a text. I didn’t verbally speak to her,” she said in an interview with CBS News.
Prior to the last communication, Ms Petito is believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Ms Petito’s mother Nichole Schmidt told Fox News the pair were heading for Yellowstone National Park next, but Ms Petito did not arrive. “The first couple of days when I wasn’t getting responses, I believed she was in a place with no service. It was like day eight and nine that I really became concerned,” Ms Schmidt said.
Ms Schmidt now believes the final text message she received from her daughter claiming she was in Yosemite was a fake.
The text message sent from her daughter’s phone on 30 August said: “No service in Yosemite”.
Yosemite, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is 800 miles from her last known location in Wyoming.
Ms Schmidt told the Daily Mail she was certain the text was faked and suspected her Mr Laundrie may have sent it to intentionally mislead the family.
She wouldn’t reveal the contents of other messages she received from her daughter, but said it didn’t seem like something Ms Petito would say.
“That text was NOT from Gabby I know it!” she told the Mail.
Ms Schmidt told the Daily Mail that on 10 September she tried texting Brian and his mother Roberta Laundrie on September 10 but they had did not respond.
Gabrielle Petito was reported missing to the Suffolk County Police Department by her family on 11 September around 6.55pm.
Mr Laundrie returned to his Florida home on 1 September without Gabby. Police have since recovered the couple’s 2012 Ford Transit van.
Police in Florida, where the couple had lived previously, said the circumstances of her disappearance “appeared odd”.
“The North Port Police Department is actively assisting in this case in conjunction with the Suffolk County Police Department where she was reported missing,” said the department in a statement. “The Suffolk County Police Department is investigating the disappearance of a Blue Point woman who went missing while travelling.”
‘Person of interest’
On Wednesday, North Port Police named Brian Laundrie as a “person of interest” in the case.
“As of now Brian Laundrie has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators or has provided any helpful details,” the Florida police department said in a statement.
“We know Brian returned here to North Port on September 1st - 10 days before her family reported her missing on September 11th.
“We have no information that a crime occurred here in North Port. Brian Laundrie is a person of interest in this case,” the statement said.
North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said: “As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby’s family is going through.
“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 with her disappearance,” Mr Garrison said in a statement.
They released several images of the Ford Transit van the couple had been travelling in, and appealed for sightings.
“So far, we have received hundreds of tips which are being vetted through multiple agencies,” the statement said.
The van has a Florida license plate QFTG03 and asked people to call a national hotline set up by the FBI on 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).
North Port Police are leading the investigation with assistance from the FBI. Suffolk County Police in Long Island, New York, where Ms Petito’s mother reported her missing, is also working on the investigation.
The Moonflower Co-op and an eerie connection to a double homicide
On Wednesday, police in the small Utah town of Moab revealed they responded to reports of a domestic violence incident involving the couple.
A witness called the Moab City Police Department at about 4:45pm on 12 August to say he “feared the worst” after witnessing the couple come to blows in their van.
The incident happened outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative, where newlywed Kylen Schulte worked.
The bodies of Ms Schulte, 24, and her wife Crystal Turner, 38, were found days later in a nearby camping ground, with multiple gunshot wounds. The double homicide remains unsolved.
Investigators in the town are refusing to rule out a possible connection between the unsolved murders of a newlywed couple and Ms Petito’s disappearance.
Attending officer Daniel Robbins said the couple appeared to have been going through a “mental health crisis”, according to a police incident report obtained by The Independent.
The officer reported that the couple both suffer from a mental illness which caused them to argue more, and they had not been taking medication during their cross-country trip in a converted Ford Transit van.
“That time spent created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments,” Mr Robbins wrote.
Mr Robbins wrote that Mr Laundrie had tried to lock his girlfriend out of the van, but she managed to get in through the driver’s door.
“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,” Mr Robbins wrote.
“As Gabrielle started to swing, Brian pushed her away to avoid the slap.”
According to the statement Ms Petito was off balance but still caught Mr Laundrie’s face and right arm, leaving visible scratches.
Mr Robbins said he did not believe the incident “escalated to the level of a domestic assault”.
He decided to separate the couple for the night so they could “reset their mental states”.
Even though the couple wanted to remain together, police arranged for Mr Laundrie to spend the night at a hotel through Seekhaven, a family crisis center in Moab.
Ms Petito remained in the van for the evening.
“I instructed both Brian and Gabrielle to take advantage of this time apart to relax their emotions and regain control of their anxiety.”
Earlier on 12 August, Ms Petito posted several pictures to her Instagram account. They included several of herself standing underneath the famous Delicate Arch landmark at the national park, and one of her and Mr Laundrie.
She described hiking to the arch at 7am, and meeting other hikers along the track.
“We also camped for one night in Devils Garden with the cover off of our tent to fall asleep watching the stars, trying to catch a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower,” she wrote.
‘We’re not ruling anything out’
Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner were last seen at a bar in Moab on 13 August, and their bodies were found five days later at a campsite in the South Mesa area of the La Sal Mountains.
After the Moonflower Co-op connection emerged, Maggie Keating, the store’s marketing and community outreach coordinator told The Independent the connection to another high-profile case was troubling.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” she said.
“We’re definitely still grieving the loss. It’s only been a month and we’ve had to keep trucking along and then this brings it back to the forefront of our minds.”
Ms Keating said nobody who was working that day had noticed the police officers attending the fight.
“I don’t know how we wouldn’t have known if the cops weren’t called outside our store. I’m guessing somebody was sitting outside of our store and I’m guessing that’s the person who saw them and called the police.”
Ms Keating told The Independent news of the disappearance of Ms Petito was “blowing up” in the town.
“I can see how people would start speculating and their imaginations would start running wild but as far as our connection to it, it seems pretty vague.
“There just happened to be an incident that somebody saw near us. But there’s no connection as far as we know.
“Having gone through experiencing not knowing what happened to Kye a month ago and just experiencing that fear I definitely can relate more to what her friends and family are going through.
“I can’t imagine now it’s been so long that she’s been missing.”
There is no evidence to connect the two incidents, but the timing and proximity to each other has prompted further unease in the town.
A spokesman from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office told Fox News they were looking at any suspicious activity around the time of the double homicide.
“We’re looking at everything, I mean, anything and everything that was suspicious around that time or we’re not ruling anything out at this time,” a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said.
“So we’re just investigating the information as it comes in.”
North Point Police spokesman Josh Taylor told The Independent on Tuesday Mr Laundrie’s parents had refused to allow officers to speak to him, and had given them contact information for the family’s attorney.
Asked if police found anything suspicious in the family’s actions, Mr Taylor said: “There’s common sense at play.
“We don’t even have any evidence that a crime has been committed, other than concern and things not adding up that would leave you to potentially assume that.
“It’s possible that something very bad has happened here, she hasn’t been seen for weeks and now he’s back here with the vehicle and we’ve been told to speak to the family attorney,” Mr Taylor said.
Later that day an attorney for the Laundrie family issued a statement saying they hoped the search for Ms Petito would be successful.
“This is an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family.
“I understand that a search has been organised 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.”
Both Ms Petito’s father Joe Petito and mother Ms Schmidt were angered by the Laundrie family statement.
Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, Gabby’s father Joe Petito said: “I’m sorry. That’s not a statement.
“Forget Brian, Brian’s home safe. His parents, yeah it’s hard for them. Bulls***.
“You know what? My daughter is not here. Our daughter is not here. We don’t even know where she is, what state she’s in.”
Later that day, Ms Schmidt blasted her daughter’s boyfriend.
“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,” she wrote in a statement released through her lawyer Richard Stafford.
“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?” Ms Schmidt asked, adding his silence was “reprehensible”.
Ms Schmidt implored Mr Laundrie to come forward with what he knew.
“Brian, whatever happened in Wyoming, happened. The only thing you can control is what you do now. Tell us where Gabby is.”
‘At the point that their desperation is turning to anger’
Ms Petito’s parents increased the pressure on the Laundrie family on Thursday afternoon, releasing an open letter to Brian’s parents Christopher and Roberta begging them to tell the police what they know.
The open letter, signed by Jim and Nichole Schmidt, Ms Petito’s stepfather and mother, and Joe and Tara Petito, her father and stepmother, was read out to a press conference by their attorney Richard Stafford.
The full text reads: “We are writing this letter to ask you to help find our beautiful daughter. We understand you are going through a difficult time and your instinct to protect your son is strong.
“We ask you to put yourselves in our shoes We haven’t been able to sleep or eat and out live are falling apart.
“We believe you know the location of where Brian left Gabby. We beg you to tell us. As a parent, how could you let us go through this pain and not help us. As a parent how could you put Gabby’s younger brothers and sisters through this.
“Gabby lived with you for over a year. she was going to be your daughter in law. How can you keep her location hidden?
“You were both at Jim and Nichole’s house. You were both so happy that Brian and Gabby got engaged and were planning to spend their lives together.
“Please, if you or your family has any decency left, please tell us where Gabby is located. Tell us if we are even looking in the right place.
“All we want is Gaby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”
After reading the letter, Mr Stafford told media the parents were “at the point that their desperation is turning to anger”.
“They know that the Laundries know where their daughter is. That’s infuriating.”
Ms Petito’s family are leading the search for her. Gabby’s mum, Nichole Schmidt, did a news conference on 13 September. “As a mom, I had concerns about a daughter going on a road trip in general,” Ms Schmidt said. “But I felt safe ... they had a plan, an itinerary, and we were excited for them.”
Addressing Gabby directly, her father Joseph Petito said: “Gabby, we just want you to come home,” he urged. “Call us. Let us know you’re OK. Come home, please.”
Her father told Newsday that the family was suffering greatly since her disappearance: “It’s like drowning with your hands tied behind you. You can’t describe it. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t control anything,” he said.
“Pride isn’t an issue right now. My only daughter is missing,” he said. “I’m going to do, the family, Gabby’s mom, we’re going to do anything we can to find her.”
The search for Ms Petito appears to be focussing on the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the last place she is believed to have been seen.
Ms Schmidt’s husband and son have posed two missing person posters on their Instagram accounts as well as a picture of Ms Petito, to help in the search for her. Both said they were unable to “comment any further because there is an active investigation”.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with their search, and pay for investigators and travel costs. It has so far received contributions of more than $25,000.
Her stepfather James Schmidt joined the search for Ms Petito in Wyoming on Wednesday, handing out flyers and putting up missing persons posters in Jackson.
A family friend, Gary Rider, told The Independent: “We plan on meeting with investigators and back-tracking known locations and hoping to help verify some information we have received through tips and the investigation.”
Social media posts
The couple had saved their money and quit their jobs to travel across the US. Their Instagram accounts documented parts of their trip, with the first post on 2 July. They posted about Kansas’ Monument Rocks, Colorado Springs, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce National Park in Utah and Canyonlands National Park.
“Downsizing our life to fit into this itty bitty van was the best decision we’ve ever made,” Mr Laundrie wrote on Instagram that month. “Sacrificing space to wake up in nature every day has been no sacrifice at all.”
Ms Petito’s Instagram account was mysteriously disabled before being reinstated on Wednesday, adding to the family’s distress.
Their attorney told WABC-TV: “We have no idea who deleted Gabby’s Instagram account.
“We contacted Instagram and the FBI to let them know that it was deleted.”
Instagram later said the account had been taken down by accident while it was trying to prevent copycat accounts from being set up.
Ms Petito last posted a photo on her Instagram account on 26 August.
The post shows her in front of a butterfly mural with a small knitted pumpkin with the caption “happy halloween”.
Her previous post, on 19 August, showed the view of a park from inside her van.
Unlike her usual posts, these two did not have a location tag.
Some Instagram users pointed out that this was not her usual style.
Ms Petito is described as a white female, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, and a triangle tattoo on her left arm, two finger tattoos, and one on her forearm that reads “let it be.” She also has a belly button piercing.
Detectives are asking those with information on Petito’s disappearance can contact Crime Stoppers anonymously on 1-800-220-TIPS.