‘She Genuinely Cared’: Family Honors Slain Van-Lifer Gabby Petito at Public Memorial Service

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

The loved ones of slain van-lifer Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito—who was killed during a cross-country road trip with her now-missing fiancé—honored the “amazing” young woman at a public memorial service in New York Sunday, encouraging others to be inspired by her kindness and adventurous spirit.

A line stretched outside Moloney’s Holbrook Funeral Home on Long Island Sunday morning, as hundreds gathered to grieve the 22-year-old, who was found dead near Grand Teton National Park earlier this month, days after her family reported her missing when her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, returned from their trip alone.

Petito’s father and step-father shared touching tributes detailing their love and heartbreak, while also comforting the many people across the country who have been captivated by the young woman’s case.

“I don’t want you guys to be sad. Gabby didn’t live the way,” Joe Petito told mourners. “She was always a pretty happy girl.”

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Petito said his daughter “always made people feel welcome” and “genuinely cared” about others.

“People would always come up to her and just sit and talk. It would take forever to get her out of places,” he explained.

Petito said he was awed by the public’s response to his daughter’s death and what an inspiration she’s been to others. He also offered a few words of advice: “If there’s a trip you guys want to take, take it. Do it now while you’ve got the time. If there’s a relationship you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now,” he said.

“Gabby is the most amazing person I’ve ever met, so if you’re going to leave here today, I’m asking you to be inspired by the way she treated people,” the father added.

James Schmidt, Petito’s step-dad, expressed similar sentiments and pushed everyone to celebrate a “beautiful person, a beautiful soul.”

“I’ve been up for days, weeks now with this, but the love and support from everybody all across the world [have] been amazing,” said Schmidt.

On the eve of the memorial service, Gabby Petito’s mother spoke up for the first time in 12 days to thank the outpouring of love and support the family has received.

“As I scroll through all the posts, my heart is full of love,” Nicole Schmidt wrote on Facebook. “I wish I could reach out and hug each and every one of you!!! Your support has been so overwhelming, and we are so filled with gratitude.”

Last week, the FBI confirmed that Petito’s remains had been found at a campground in Bridger-Teton National Forest. Her death was ruled a homicide days later.

Authorities have spent days searching for Laundrie in a swampy nature preserve in Florida where his parents said he was headed before he vanished. Laundrie has refused to cooperate with authorities since he returned from their trip alone on Sept. 1. On Friday, a warrant was issued for his arrest for allegedly using an unauthorized debit card after Petito’s disappearance.

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