With all the recent focus on the manhunt for Brian Laundrie, it’s easy to lose sight of what the Gabby Petito story is really about.
In late August, Gabby — a vivacious 22-year-old with an insatiable lust for life — disappeared during a cross-country “vanlife” expedition with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie.
As days turned into weeks the hope that Gabby would be found alive began to diminsh.
On September 19, the Petito’s family’s worst fears were confirmed when Gabby’s body was found at Bridger–Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
The cause of Petito’s death was later found to be strangulation.
For Gabby’s loved ones, the news was the shock of a lifetime, and yet sadly, it didn’t come as much of a surprise.
Even before the body was discovered, the consensus among investigators and those who watched the case from afar was that Gabby had been murdered by the very man whom her family had expected to protect her from harm.
Speaking 60 Minutes Australia this week, Petito’s parents opened up about the ways in which they feel that they have been duped by Laundrie — whom they firlmy believe is responsible for their daughter’s death.
“He just seemed like a nice guy,” said Gabby’s mother, Nichole Schmidt.
“I worried. I told her to be careful, be safe. To be aware of your surroundings. Don’t trust anybody,” she continued.
“But I felt safe because she was with Brian and I felt like she would be OK,” she said. “I thought he would take care of her.”
Deapite the alleged duplicity on Laundrie’s part, Gabby’s father says the case is fairly straightforward.
“She did look happy,” Joe Petito.
“But as we look more and more into this, it might not have been as great as people online perceived.”
Joe added that Laundrie made an effort with the entire family, especially Gabby’s siblings.
“Every time he would come over he was polite,” he added.
“He’d talk with our other children as well. They got to know him and they liked him.”
“He was very polite and quiet,” Gabby’s mother recalled. “He’d draw them pictures and stuff. He would read books to my little one at night before bed. So, he just seemed like a nice guy.”
These reflections come during an intensely painful weekend for the Petito’s, who made the trip to Wyoming to collect Gabby’s remains.
While there, the family made a stop at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, one of the final spots that Gabby visited during her tragically short life.
“I now know why you came here. #gabbypetito has a beautiful view from now on. Love you, and miss you,” Joe Petito tweeted.
It was a poignant tribute to a young woman who loved nothing more than to traverse the country and discover beauty in its more out of the out-of-the-way places.
Also over the weekend, the Petito family held the first fundraiser for the Gabby Petito Foundation.
The goal of the organization is to help victims of domestic violence and assist in other missing person cases.
“It’s a fundraiser by some of their friends to raise money to help people in Gabby’s situation,” family attorney Richard Stafford told the New York Post.
“The foundation that they are in the process of setting up is going to be to help find missing people and women in abusive relationships.”
Hopefully the organization will serve as a small silver lining in this enormous dark cloud of tragedy.