Before 22-year-old Gabby Petito went missing, she and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, were in love and ready to embark on the road trip of a lifetime.
The couple began a cross-country tour of national parks in July, documenting their journey on YouTube and Instagram using the hashtag #VanLife.
Now, authorities across the U.S. are mounting a search for Petito, who hasn’t been heard from since late August when she was believed to be in Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyoming. At least a half-dozen law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, are looking into her disappearance.
Police in Florida this week called Laundrie a “person of interest” in Petito’s disappearance and have said he’s been uncooperative in the investigation.
Laundrie will not speak on the matter on the advice of his family attorney, Steven P. Bertolino, who said police too often focus on the intimate partner.
On Thursday, Bertolino declined to comment.
Early days of the relationship
Petito and Laundrie met in high school, Petito’s mother said, and announced their engagement last year.
“Brian asked me to marry him and I said yes!” Petito wrote on Instagram. “You make life feel unreal, and everyday is such a dream with you.”
Petito, of Blue Point, New York, later moved to North Port, Florida, to live with Laundrie, Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, said.
This year’s road trip wasn’t Petito’s first. She documented a western-bound trip on Instagram in 2019. In a January 2020 post, she said driving across the country to California and Oregon was an “absolute dream.” And in May 2020, she posted that she couldn’t wait to get back to “traveling the world” with Laundrie.
“She wanted to cross the country in the camper van and live the van life and live free. This was her dream,” Schmidt told NBC affiliate KSL.
Road trip begins in early July
Petito and Laundrie left Blue Point, New York, on July 2 in a 2012 Ford Transit van, according to her social media posts and Schmidt’s statements to KSL.
The couple chronicled their trip on their Instagram accounts and YouTube under the moniker Nomadic Statik.
The social media posts and statements from Petito’s family provide a footprint of the couple’s travels, indicating they drove about 3,800 miles, to Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming before Petito was reported missing.
In a blurb on the couple’s sole YouTube video, they noted they had traveled together before.
“After our first cross country trip in a little Nissan Sentra, we both decided we wanted to downsize our lives and travel full time,” they wrote.
Instagram posts from July show she and Laundrie trekked the country’s national parks, visiting Monument Rocks in Kansas and the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado before heading to Utah.
“There’s no place like the tiny home we built,” Petito wrote in a July 4 post from Kansas.
A post from July 16 placed them in Utah’s Zion National Park.
“The past two nights camping in Zion have been so cool, literally,” Petito wrote on Instagram. “We hiked up here in about 100 [degrees] and it was so nice coming back to our campsite, watching the sky fill with dark clouds, and view the lightning storm in the nice cool air of the light rain.”
Five days later, Petito posted from Bryce Canyon National Park, also in Utah. Posts later that month placed the couple at other landmarks around the state, including Mystic Hot Springs and Canyonlands National Park.
August altercation documented by Utah police
On Aug. 12, police in Moab, Utah, responded to a report of a “domestic problem” between Petito and Laundrie, according to police reports released this week.
The alleged altercation happened as Petito and Laundrie were driving toward Arches National Park, according to a police report. A responding officer reported that the couple’s van was traveling about 45 mph in a 15 mph zone. As the officer turned on the lights to pull over the van, it swerved and hit a curb before coming to a stop, according to the report.
Another officer wrote that Petito had slapped Laundrie after an argument, at which point Laundrie allegedly attempted to lock her out of the van. She forced her way back in before Laundrie drove off, according to the report.
The two told the officer that “they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” according to the report.
The pair was told to separate for the night, with Petito maintaining possession of the van. No charges were filed.
Petito and Laundrie also told officers they were struggling with their mental health, and neither were on medication. The long road trip was taking a toll on them, Laundrie told an officer.
“The time spent created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments,” the report said.
Bodycam footage released Thursday also captured some of the encounter with police.
It showed an officer talking to Laundrie and an emotional Petito after authorities pulled over the van. Petito could be seen wiping away tears as she told the responding officer she was struggling.
“I’m sorry,” Petito said after the officer asked why she was crying. “We’ve just been fighting this morning. Some personal issues.”
Laundrie added: “It was a long day. We were camping yesterday.”
When the officer asked Laundrie about scratches on his face, he responded: “She had her phone and was trying to get the keys from me. I said, ‘Let’s just step back and breathe,’ and she got me with her phone.”
Petito reported missing
In the days after the Moab incident, Petito’s communications with her family stopped, police have said.
Schmidt said the couple left Salt Lake City for Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming around Aug. 24, which was when she said she last spoke to her daughter on a FaceTime call. She said she received texts sent from her daughter’s phone until Aug. 30, but she wasn’t sure whether her daughter sent them.
Petito’s last text to her mother read: “No service in Yosemite.” It is unclear whether the couple ever made it to the California state park. Petito’s last post on Instagram is dated Aug. 25, with no location specified.
What happened next is mostly a mystery, her family and officials say. What is known is that Laundrie made it to Florida with the van, according to police.
Police in North Port said they recovered the van Sept. 11 at the home the couple shared with Laundrie’s parents. Police said Laundrie returned to North Port on Sept. 1, 10 days before Petito’s family reported her missing.
“Every day the search for Gabby continues the Schmidt and Petito family becomes more desperate,” Petito’s family’s attorney, Richard Stafford, said this week. “They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter’s disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home.”
Bertolino said in a statement Wednesday that his client would not speak on the matter because “intimate partners” are often the first police focus on.
“I have been informed that the North Port, Florida. police have named Brian Laundrie as a ‘person of interest’ in this matter,” Bertolino said. “This formality has not really changed the circumstances of Mr. Laundrie being the focus and attention of law enforcement, and Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel.”