Lawsuit alleges Brian Laundrie's parents withheld information on Gabrielle Petito's death

·5 min read

SARASOTA COUNTY – The parents of the late Gabrielle Petito filed a negligence lawsuit Thursday against Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, claiming that the couple knew about the whereabouts of their son, Brian Laundrie, following Petito’s death and may have been trying to get him out of the country prior to his death.

Petito and Laundrie started a cross-country van trip from New York State on July 2, 2021, one year after the two had become engaged. Petitlo, 22, was later found dead from blunt force trauma near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Related: Autopsy report confirms Laundrie died from self-inflicted gunshot wound

The lawsuit, filed by Venice-based attorney Patrick J. Reilly on behalf of her parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, alleges that Brian Laundrie murdered Gabrielle on Aug, 27, 2021 – the same day Schmidt received a text message from her daughter’s phone that referred to her grandfather by his first name, Stan, which was out of character.

On Aug. 30, he sent Schmidt another text, claiming that there was no cell service in Yosemite Park.

Earlier: Timeline of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie's road trip and investigation

The suit alleges that Brian Laundrie then informed his parents about his fiancee’s death on Aug. 28, and that on the same day the Laundries contacted attorney Steve Bertolino and sent him a retainer Sept. 2.

Brian Laundrie arrived at his parents’ North Port home in Gabrielle’s van on Sept. 1 and the Laundries went on a family vacation to Fort DeSoto in Pinellas County, Sept. 6-7.

Petito's family blocked by Laundrie's on Facebook

On Sept. 10, Roberta Laundrie blocked Nichole Schmidt on both her cell phone and Facebook, the suit says. Prior to Gabrielle's death, the suit noted, the two families had a cordial relationship.

The lawsuit notes that Petito’s parents were distraught and attempted to locate their daughter between Aug. 27 and Sept. 19 – the day her remains were found at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in Wyoming, though Schmidt did not report her daughter missing until Sept. 11.

That report started the search for Petito, as well as a nationwide, if not worldwide media frenzy, which was augmented by the availability of YouTube footage of the couple traveling in the van.

The suit alleges that the Laundries already knew about Gabrielle’s death on Sept. 14, when Bertolino issued a statement on their behalf that read: “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.”

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito in their first and only Youtube video uploaded to their channel.
Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito in their first and only Youtube video uploaded to their channel.

That statement, as well as the lack of response to a Sept. 16 letter written by attorney Richard Stafford to the Laundries that implored, “Please, if you or your family have 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 Gabby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”

The suit alleges that while Petito and Schmidt were searching for information about their daughter, the Laundries were keeping the whereabouts of their son a secret and attempting to make arrangements for him to leave the country.

“Christopher Laundrie and Robert Laundrie exhibited extreme and outrageous conduct which constitutes behavior, under the circumstances, which goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” Reilly wrote. “As direct and proximate result of the willfulness and maliciousness of Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt had been caused to suffer pain and suffering, mental anguish inconvenience, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life experienced in the past and to be experienced in the future.”

The lawsuit calls for damages in excess of $30,000, though the cover sheet notes the claims exceed $100,000 – the highest amount listed on the form.

In case you missed it: FBI says Brian Laundrie admitted to killing Gabby Petito in notebook recovered with his remains

In October 2021: Unidentified remains and Brian Laundrie's backpack found at Myakkahatchee Creek park

On the advice of their attorney, the Laundries refused to respond to Petito’s parents and reportedly did not respond to law enforcement until they filed their own missing persons report for Laundrie on Sept. 17, when he did not contact them after a camping trip in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, which is connected by a bridge to the T. Mabry Carlton Memorial Reserve.

Bertolino could not be reached by the Herald-Tribune for comment.

Bertolino at first declined to comment to NewsChannel 8, WFLA but in a follow-up text message to JB Biunno of WFLA Now, wrote: “As I have maintained over the last several months, the Laundries have not publicly commented at my direction, which is their right under the law,” Bertolino texted. “Assuming everything the Petitos allege in their lawsuit is true, which we deny, this lawsuit does not change the fact that the Laundries had no obligation to speak to law enforcement or any third-party, including the Petito family. This fundamental legal principle renders the Petitos’ claims to be baseless under the law.”

After an extensive hunt of the environmental park and Carlton Reserve for Laundrie – who was always only a person of interest in his fiancee’s disappearance and death – by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement, his remains were finally discovered on Oct. 20.

The search had been hampered by heavy rains. The area where Laundrie’s remains were recovered was under three feet of water early on in the search.

An autopsy by the District 12 Medical Examiner’s Office said that he died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

The FBI reported that prior to killing himself in the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve, the 23-year-old Laundrie from North Port admitted in a journal that he killed his fiancee.

After her death, North Port residents mourned Petito’s loss with a makeshift memorial at the North Port City Center Green.

The case is currently assigned to Circuit Court Judge Hunter W. Carroll, with Reilly and his clients requesting a jury trial.

Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at earle.kimel@heraldtribune.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Brian Laundrie's parents sued by parents of Gabby Petito