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

·6 min read
YouTube
YouTube

A young woman touring the country’s national parks with her boyfriend in a converted camper van suddenly disappeared without a word—and her anguished family is desperate for answers.

Gabrielle Petito, 22, and Brian Laundrie, 23, hit the road on July 2, driving their white 2012 Ford Transit Connect from their home in North Port, Florida, to the Monument Rocks formation in Kansas, then making their way to Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park. From there, they headed to the Zion, Bryce, and Canyonlands national parks in Utah.

“After our first cross country trip in a little Nissan Sentra, we both decided we to wanted downsize our lives and travel full time, but trying to fit everything for two people into the tiny little trunk of the car, also spending way too much on gas, food, and Airbnb, was not the road to take,” the pair wrote on their shared YouTube page. “We quickly realized we had to come up with a solution if we wanted to continue traveling and living nomadically, so that’s why we handcrafted our own tiny van...utilizing space with unique designs and features. Creating a space for both artistic expression and distance hiking. Thank you so much for watching, and we hope you tag along on our journey wherever the van takes us!”

Petito’s mother last spoke to her daughter on Aug. 25, while the two were visiting Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, according to local news reports. Laundrie is now back home in Florida, has hired a lawyer, and reportedly isn’t cooperating with police. And while the couple’s van has since been recovered, Petito is nowhere to be found.

“We had been in touch with her as she traveled,” Petito’s father, Joe, told The Daily Beast, explaining that he knew something was wrong when Gabby stopped checking in. “I’d speak to her once a week or so, her mom spoke to her two or three times a week. My son would talk to her often on Snapchat, FaceTime; my niece would be in constant contact with her.”

Since Petito and Laundrie were often exploring wilderness areas, she sometimes had no cell service and couldn’t be reached for a day or two. But as hours turned into days, and days turned into weeks, Petito’s parents finally went to the cops.

“She hadn’t been in touch, and that was the odd portion,” said Joe Petito, who in June moved from Long Island, New York, to Florida in order to be closer to Gabby.

On Sept. 11, Petito’s mother reported Gabby missing to the Suffolk County, New York, Police Department. Investigators issued a bulletin asking the public for any information they might have, describing Gabby as “a white female, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, and several tattoos, including one on her finger and one on her forearm that reads ‘let it be.’” A Suffolk County PD spokesman told The Daily Beast that there is an open and active investigation into Petito’s whereabouts, but declined to provide additional details.

The Daily Beast was unable to reach Laundrie or his lawyer for comment, and his parents did not respond to voicemails and texts seeking information about the case.

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💕”

Since the news broke of Gabby’s disappearance, angry commenters have mobbed Laundrie’s page. “Where’s Gabby you creep?” one wrote.

Asked for his opinion of Laundrie, Joe Petito told The Daily Beast, “I’ve got thoughts about the guy, but I can’t share them… I would love to say more, but I can’t.”

Jaye Foster, an Alabaman who is traveling the U.S. in his own customized Volkswagen bus, met Gabby and Laundrie near Moab, Utah, on Aug. 10. The three of them chatted for about 40 minutes, discussing the modifications they had made to their vans.

“They were holding hands, they were ecstatic about their rebuild,” Foster told The Daily Beast from a rest stop in California. “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.”

Laundrie had done most of the mechanical work on their van, and Gabby had refurbished the interior, according to Foster, who said he enjoyed comparing tattoos with Gabby. When Laundrie asked Foster if he’d like to have a skateboard he no longer needed, Foster eagerly accepted.

“He said, ‘Here, I’m not gonna be needing two of these,’” Foster recalled, adding that Gabby and Laundrie said they were headed to Yellowstone next.

Foster and his girlfriend then set off on a hike to the 52-foot Delicate Arch. When they got back to the parking lot, Gabby and Laundrie were gone.

“They were happy to show off their van, happy to show off their travel map, she was so proud of the sink she had put in,” said Foster. “She was such a cool person. 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.”

Joe Petito said that the Suffolk County PD “has been amazing,” and that the FBI has been keeping the family as up-to-date as possible. However, there’s a lot that investigators can’t talk about that Petito finds “frustrating, because we want answers.”

“She’s a great kid, she loved life—wanted to live it, wanted to experience it,” said Petito. “Who doesn’t want to travel the country and see all the great spots? I didn’t have the stones to do it, and here she is banging it out like a champ. Yes, this is tragic and all that other stuff, but I’m sure she’ll be found. I have to believe that. Because otherwise, I’ll just break down and cry. So I’m focusing on the fact that she’s somewhere, we’ve just got to find out where. Getting her home healthy is all that matters right now. That’s it.”

A GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds for the search has so far raised $6,545 of its $10,000 goal.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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