In a recent interview with Deseret News, Utah park ranger Melissa Hulls expressed sadness over the 22-year-old YouTuber's death.
The local officer recalled meeting Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, while responding to a call about a possible domestic assault on Aug. 12.
According to Hull, she spoke with Petito one-on-one, as she finds women are more comfortable speaking with a female officer.
"I was probably more candid with her than I should've been," Hull recalled. "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."
But, according to Hull, Petito expressed feeling "a lot of anxiety" about the notion of splitting from Laundrie.
The police parted ways with Petito and Laundrie, advising the couple to spend the night apart to let tensions die down, an instruction the pair followed. Hull said, "This wasn't a good day for anybody. We thought we were making the right decision when we left them."
On Sept. 21, the Teton County Coroner's Office confirmed they'd found Petito's remains in a Utah park and that the initial manner of death was homicide. The cause of death remains open pending final autopsy results.
Hulls said she was heartbroken to hear the news of Petito's death. "It's hard to think about now because I feel like I could've said more to help her," she added. "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."
However, Hulls also said that she and the other officers didn't believe that the situation was "unsafe." She shared, "If we had any reason to think any one of them was in danger, we would've separated them."
Hulls explained that they knew only what Petito and Laundrie shared during their brief interaction—vest-cam footage from the interaction is about an hour long—and they could only go off the information that was presented, explaining that the officers couldn't "let our emotions drive the decision."
"It's easy to say that when you can break down a video, minute by minute, and judge it, versus being in the moment where we saw minor injuries and two people that were apologetic," Hulls said of the criticism that she and the other responding officers are facing.
Nonetheless, Hulls feels bad that she couldn't have done "something more" to help Petito. "There are so many circumstances where you wish it had gone a certain way, and if you get stuck with the ‘would have, could have, should have,' you can't do this job," Hulls reflected. "You got to learn from it and keep going, otherwise you're not going to be help for the next Gabby."
Petito's fiancé is a person of interest in the case, though he has not been named a suspect. Police have been unable to locate him since he reportedly left his family's Florida home on Sept. 14.
FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said on Sept. 21, "The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms. Petito's death is held accountable for their actions. Mr. Brian Laundrie has been named a person of interest. Anyone with information concerning Mr. Laundrie's role in this matter or his current whereabouts should contact the FBI."
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