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Gabby Petito’s mom announces $100K donation to help domestic violence hotline

Nichole Schmidt is honoring her daughter's legacy with a $100,000 donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline that the CEO said will help add more staff.
/ Source: TODAY

Nichole Schmidt is honoring daughter Gabby Petito's legacy by working to save others from domestic violence.

Schmidt announced Thursday that The Gabby Petito Foundation is donating $100,000 to the National Domestic Violence Hotline as part of the organization's "Hope Can't Wait" initiative aimed at raising $2 million.

"We’re trying to do good for Gabby, and for everybody else," Schmidt said in an interview with NBC News senior national correspondent Kate Snow. "Our story begins because of domestic violence tragedy, and we don’t want to see that happen to anybody else."

The hotline has been overwhelmed this summer, with nearly twice as many calls and chats as last summer, and wait times of more than 15 minutes, according to National Domestic Violence Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones. The donation from The Gabby Petito Foundation will help go toward hiring more staff.

The memory of Gabby Petito (left), who was found strangled last year, is being honored by her mother, Nichole Schmidt (right), with a $100,000 donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
The memory of Gabby Petito (left), who was found strangled last year, is being honored by her mother, Nichole Schmidt (right), with a $100,000 donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. TODAY

"Every potential call that’s coming in is someone’s life, and that’s how we have to think about this," Ray-Jones told Kate Snow. "Time is precious, lives are precious."

The donation comes nearly a year after Petito’s body was found on Sept. 19 near a campground in Wyoming. A coroner found that the 22-year-old had been strangled. Her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, had disappeared, resulting in a manhunt. His body was found in a nature preserve in Florida not far from his parents’ home on Oct. 20, and a Florida coroner ruled that he died by suicide.

A month before Petito's body was found, police in Moab, Utah, responded to a 911 call from bystanders about an alleged physical altercation between the couple during a cross-country trip.

"I want to jump through the screen and rescue my daughter," Schmidt said about the incident in Utah. "She is hurting, she is scared."

Schmidt added that she doesn't believe that was the first time their relationship got physical.

"In hindsight, looking at that?" she said. "No."

In June, Laundrie's lawyer released pages of a notebook that the FBI said it found in the area of Laundrie's body in Florida. The FBI said Laundrie wrote that he was responsible for Petito's death.

Laundrie wrote that Petito fell in a creek and was in extreme pain, according to the pages released by his lawyer.

"I ended her life," he wrote. "I thought it was merciful, that it is what she wanted."

Schmidt reacted to the release of Laundrie's notebook by tweeting a graphic on June 27 that says "narcissists rewrite history to escape accountability" with the caption, "Fed up."

"It shows that was his character," Schmidt said on TODAY. "Even in his last moments he wanted to make sure he looked like the good guy, right? That’s ridiculous. We know how she died."

The attorney for Laundrie's family had no comment.

Petito's parents and step-parents sued the Laundrie family in March, alleging that Brian told his parents he had killed Gabby before he returned to their home in Florida from the cross-country trip without her.

They say the Laundries refused to respond to them or to law enforcement during the search for Petito. The Laundries' attorney denied those allegations.

"The Laundries had no obligation to speak to law enforcement or any third party, including the Petito family," he said in a statement.

The Laundrie family filed a motion to dismiss the civil suit, which a judge denied in June. The Laundries' attorney told NBC News they were disappointed with the decision and will "continue to use all available legal means to preserve their rights." The Petitos' lawyer did not return a request for comment.

As the one-year mark from Petito's tragic death approaches, Schmidt has tried to work through the pain with the larger goal of helping those experiencing domestic violence.

"She touched the world, right?" Schmidt said. "This whole tragedy that happened is for a higher purpose. That’s what keeps me going."