Gabby Petito, 22, an aspiring social media star who went missing in August 2021 during a “dream” cross-country road trip from New York to Oregon with her fiancé, was strangled to death, and her body found in a Wyoming national park.
More than a month later, skeletal human remains found inside the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in Florida were confirmed to be those of her fiancé Brian Laundrie.
Autopsy results showed Laundrie died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and a notebook found alongside the remains contained a note claiming responsibility for the murder.
Family members and police had conducted a nationwide search for the missing “van life” blogger after her mother, Nicole Schmidt, reported her missing on 11 September 2021, ten days after Laundrie had returned home to North Port, Florida, in the couple’s white Ford transit van without her and declined to co-operate with inquiries from Petito’s family.
Gabby Petito, from Blue Point, Long Island, was last seen on 27 August 2021 at a Whole Foods store in Wyoming with Laundrie, her partner of two and a half years.
The couple had been documenting their travel experiences as “van lifers” since setting out from New York on 2 July 2021 via a YouTube channel called Nomadic Statik. Petito would regularly FaceTime her mother from the road, causing Ms Schmidt to grow concerned when she failed to hear from her daughter for several days.
On 15 September 2021, North Port Police in Florida revealed that Laundrie was a “person of interest” in the case.
Two days earlier, Laundrie himself went missing, although his family did not report his absence to the police for several days. He was believed to have headed to the nearby Carlton Reserve with just a backpack, prompting an intense manhunt in the area.
That same day, the FBI removed Laundrie’s parents from their home and began investigating the house as a crime scene.
While law enforcement was searching for Laundrie in Florida on 19 September 2021, investigators announced they had located a body believed to be that of Petito in the eastern portion of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The discovery was aided by another travel YouTuber who spotted Petito’s van in a video they had been editing.
On 20 October 2021, human remains were found in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, connected to the Carlton Reserve, close to where personal belongings of Laundrie’s were found earlier in the day. The skeletal remains were confirmed to belong to Laundrie a day later.
Since then, Petito’s family have filed wrongful death lawsuits against both the Laundrie family and the Moab Police Department in Utah.
On 17 November, the Petito’s were awarded $3m in a wrongful death lawsuit taken against Brian Laundrie.
Here is everything we know about the case.
According to Ms Schmidt, Gabby Petito would FaceTime with her about three times a week.
But after the pair spoke on 25 August 2021, Ms Schmidt received several worrying text messages over the following few days but was not convinced that they were actually written by her daughter.
Those text messages sent by Petito to her mother in the days before her disappearance indicated a growing strain between her and Laundrie, a police search warrant later revealed.
Ms Schmidt’s suspicions were further raised when she received a final “odd text” in which Petito mentioned her grandfather by his first name “Stan” on 27 August 2021, the warrant stated.
“Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls,” the message said, according to the warrant.
Ms Schmidt said the text was concerning because her daughter never called her grandfather by his first name.
“The mother was concerned something was wrong with her daughter,” the warrant said, and provided “probable cause” that a felony crime had been committed.
Prior to the last communication, Petito was believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Petito’s mother told Fox News the pair were heading for Yellowstone National Park next but Petito never arrived.
“The first couple of days when I wasn’t getting responses, I believed she was in a place with no service. It was like day eight and nine that I really became concerned,” Ms Schmidt said.
Ms Schmidt now believes the final text message she received from her daughter claiming she was in Yosemite was fake.
The text message sent from her daughter’s phone on 30 August 2021 said: “No service in Yosemite”. Her phone was switched off on 31 August or 1 September.
Yosemite, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is 800 miles from her last known location in Wyoming.
Ms Schmidt said she texted Brian and his mother Roberta Laundrie on 10 September 2021 but had received no response.
Petito was reported missing to the Suffolk County Police Department, New York, by her family on 11 September around 6.55pm.
Laundrie had returned to his Florida home on 1 September 2021 without his fiancee. Police subsequently seized the couple’s 2012 Ford Transit van on the day she was reported missing and said the circumstances of her disappearance “appeared odd”.
Brian Laundrie named ‘person of interest’ and vanishes
On 15 September 2021, North Port Police named Brian Laundrie as a “person of interest” in the case.
“As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby’s family is going through,” North Port Police chief Todd Garrison said in a press release.
“The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out.”
Two days earlier, on 13 September, Laundrie left home, reportedly telling his parents he was going for a hike in the nearby Carlton Reserve. He has not been seen since.
Crucially, his parents did not inform investigators he had left the house and was missing until three days later on 17 September and initially misstated the day of his departure as 14 September, before revising their statement.
A major search got underway in the swampy 25,000-acre wilderness on 18 September, as police said it was possible he could survive there hiding out “for months”.
It was later revealed his parents went camping with Brian in Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County between 6 and 8 September, days before Petito was reported missing on 11 September.
North Port Police scaled back its search for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve, saying it had “exhausted all avenues” for finding him man in the dense swampland. Days later, divers returned to the area for a new round of searching
The same day, FBI and North Port Police executed a search warrant at the Laundrie family home in North Port, as hundreds of onlookers and members of the media were gathered outside.
They removed parents Chris and Roberta and placed them in a police vehicle in the driveway as they conducted a six-hour search of the house.
A search warrant revealed they were particularly interested in examining devices including phones, computers and external hard drives for any clues as to Laundrie’s whereabouts or involvement in his girlfriend’s death.
Internet browsing history, text messages and other data stored on those devices was of particular focus, the warrant said.
North Port Police, the FBI and several other law enforcement agencies resumed their search of the alligator and snake-infested Carlton Reserve on 21 September 2021.
Meanwhile, authorities in Alabama received reports of several sightings of Laundrie in the state, 600 miles from North Port over the same weekend.
Eventually former reality tv star Duane Chapman, aka Dog the Bounty Hunter, joined the manhunt, bringing another layer of spectacle to the ongoing search.
Mr Chapman donated $10,000 to the reward fund for locating Laundrie, uncovered what he believed to be a “primitive” campsite and also turned reporters onto the Laundrie family trip to Fort DeSoto, but eventually left the search after suffering an injury to his ankle.
The search for Laundrie continued into October. The FBI took over the case from the North Port Police, and almost immediately began scaling the swamp searches for Laundrie back. After several days of truncated search efforts, a decision was made to once again surge into the swamp to look for Laundrie. Chris Laundrie joined the police for a day, driving with them into the Carlton Reserve to point out his son’s favored spaces.
No evidence of Laundrie was ever found anywhere in the Carlton Reserve. However, on 20 October, police found Laundrie’s belongings and later recovered human remains close to where his belongings were found, in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park. The identity of the remains was confirmed to be his using Laundrie’s dental records.
The ‘domestic incident’ and an eerie connection to a double homicide
With the investigation underway and whipping up international media interest, police in the small Utah town of Moab City revealed they had responded to reports of a domestic violence incident involving the couple some five weeks earlier.
A bystander had called 911 at about 4.45pm on 12 August 2021 to say he “feared the worst” after witnessing the couple come to blows in their van.
“I’m right on the corner of Main St by Moonflower… I’d like to report a domestic dispute,” the caller said in the 49-second audio recording, which was released on 20 September.
“The gentleman was slapping the girl… They ran up and down the sidewalk, he proceeded to hit her and then they drove off.”
The incident happened outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative, where newlywed Kylen Schulte worked.
The bodies of Schulte, 24, and her wife Crystal Turner, 38, were found days later in a nearby camping ground, with multiple gunshot wounds. The double homicide remains unsolved and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office said the two incidents were not connected, although for a moment it was feared they could be.
Attending officer Daniel Robbins said the couple appeared to have been going through a “mental health crisis”, according to a police incident report obtained by The Independent.
The officer reported that the couple both suffered from a mental illness that caused them to argue more and they had not been taking medication during their cross-country trip in their converted Ford van.
“That time spent created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments,” Mr Robbins wrote.
Mr Robbins wrote that Laundrie had tried to lock his girlfriend out of the van, but she managed to get in through the driver’s door.
“He got into their van and Gabrielle had gone into a manic state. Brian said Gabrielle, thinking he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride, went to slap him,” Mr Robbins wrote.
“As Gabrielle started to swing, Brian pushed her away to avoid the slap.”
According to the statement, Petito was off balance but still caught Laundrie’s face and right arm, leaving visible scratches.
Mr Robbins said he did not believe the incident “escalated to the level of a domestic assault”.
He decided to separate the couple for the night so they could “reset their mental states”.
Even though the couple wanted to remain together, police arranged for Laundrie to spend the night at a hotel through Seekhaven, a family crisis centre in Moab.
Petito remained in the van for the evening.
“I instructed both Brian and Gabrielle to take advantage of this time apart to relax their emotions and regain control of their anxiety.”
Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner were last seen at a bar in Moab on 13 August 2021 and their bodies were found five days later at a campsite in the South Mesa area of the La Sal Mountains.
After the Moonflower Co-op connection emerged, Maggie Keating, the store’s marketing and community outreach coordinator told The Independent the connection to another high-profile case was troubling.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” she said. “We’re definitely still grieving the loss. It’s only been a month and we’ve had to keep trucking along and then this brings it back to the forefront of our minds.”
There is no evidence to connect the two incidents, but the timing and proximity to each other has prompted further unease in the town.
North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor told The Independent Laundrie’s parents had refused to allow officers to speak to him and had given them contact information for the family’s attorney, Steve Bertolino.
Asked if police found anything suspicious in the family’s actions, Mr Taylor said: “There’s common sense at play.”
“We don’t even have any evidence that a crime has been committed, other than concern and things not adding up that would leave you to potentially assume that,” he added.
“It’s possible that something very bad has happened here, she hasn’t been seen for weeks and now he’s back here with the vehicle and we’ve been told to speak to the family attorney.”
Later that day, Mr Bertolino issued a statement saying they hoped the search for Ms Petito would be successful.
“This is an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family,” the statement said.
“I understand that a search has been organised for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
“On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.
“On the advice of counsel the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”
Both Petito’s father, Joe Petito, and mother, Ms Schmidt, were angered by the Laundrie family statement.
Appearing on Fox News, Gabby’s father Joe Petito said: “I’m sorry. That’s not a statement.
“Forget Brian, Brian’s home safe. His parents, yeah it’s hard for them. Bulls***.
“You know what? My daughter is not here. Our daughter is not here. We don’t even know where she is, what state she’s in.”
Later that day, Ms Schmidt also blasted her daughter’s boyfriend.
“Brian claims he wants to sit in the background while we search for Gabby in the wilderness of the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks,” she wrote in a statement released through her lawyer, Richard Stafford.
“Brian left Gabby in the wilderness with grizzly bears and wolves while he sits in the comfort of his home. In his home!
“Brian, how could you do this to Gabby?” Ms Schmidt asked, adding his silence was “reprehensible”.
Ms Schmidt implored Laundrie to come forward with what he knew.
“Brian, whatever happened in Wyoming, happened. The only thing you can control is what you do now. Tell us where Gabby is.”
‘At the point that their desperation is turning to anger’
Petito’s parents continued to increase the pressure on the Laundrie family, releasing an open letter to Brian’s parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, begging them to tell the police what they know.
The open letter, signed by Jim and Nicole Schmidt, Petito’s stepfather and mother, and Joe and Tara Petito, her father and stepmother, was read out to a press conference by Mr Stafford.
The full text read: “We are writing this letter to ask you to help find our beautiful daughter. We understand you are going through a difficult time and your instinct to protect your son is strong.
“We ask you to put yourselves in our shoes We haven’t been able to sleep or eat and out live are falling apart.
“We believe you know the location of where Brian left Gabby. We beg you to tell us. As a parent, how could you let us go through this pain and not help us. As a parent how could you put Gabby’s younger brothers and sisters through this.
“Gabby lived with you for over a year. she was going to be your daughter-in-law. How can you keep her location hidden?
“You were both at Jim and Nicole’s house. You were both so happy that Brian and Gabby got engaged and were planning to spend their lives together.
“Please, if you or your family has any decency left, please tell us where Gabby is located. Tell us if we are even looking in the right place.
“All we want is Gaby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”
After reading the letter, Mr Stafford told media the parents were “at the point that their desperation is turning to anger”.
“They know that the Laundries know where their daughter is. That’s infuriating.”
‘Finding her is all that matters’
As media and public interest in Petito’s disappearance grew, her family harnessed that attention to repeatedly call for help in finding their daughter.
Ms Schmidt told a press conference on 13 September: “As a mom, I had concerns about a daughter going on a road trip in general. But I felt safe... They had a plan, an itinerary, and we were excited for them.”
Addressing Petito directly, her father said: “Gabby, we just want you to come home. Call us. Let us know you’re OK. Come home, please.”
Using social media, the family continued to share updates and photographs of Petito, with Joe Petito telling another press conference: “Finding her is all that matters.”
But looming over their activities was the continuing silence of one person: Brian Laundrie.
The Petito camp’s pressure campaign may have had some effect as North Port Police were called to the Laundrie residence on the night of 17 September and were informed by Mr Laundrie’s parents that he had left the family house earlier that week, heading for the Carlton Reserve, and had not been seen since.
As the police hunted for Laundrie in Florida, the search for Petito began to hone in on an area where their Ford Transit van had been spotted in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
YouTuber Jen Bethune was driving through the Spread Creek Campground on 27 August 2021, recording from a dashcam as she went.
It was only after Petito was declared missing that she realised the significance of the white van parked on the side of the road and picked out by her camera as she passed.
Once her video evidence was relayed to investigators searching for Petito, they concentrated their efforts in the area.
On 19 September 2021, the FBI announced a body had been found in the area they were searching in the Grand Teton National Park.
Police subsequently held a press conference and announced that the body matched the description of Petito. Her family were informed of the development and social media was inundated with messages of condolence.
On 21 September, Petito family attorney Richard Stafford confirmed the body was indeed Gabby’s in a text message to The Independent.
The Teton County coroner, Dr Brent Blue, confirmed Petito’s death had been a homicide by strangulation.
On 23 September 2021, the FBI revealed a warrant had been issued for Laundrie’s arrest by a federal court a day earlier, relating to his “activities following the death of Gabrielle Petito”.
Specifically, Laundrie was charged with fraudulently using someone else’s debit card from 30 August to 1 September, spending or withdrawing $1,000 or more.
Laundrie family lawyer Steven Bertolino told Fox News the warrant was unrelated to Ms Petito’s death itself, saying: “It is my understanding the arrest warrant for Brian Laundrie is related to activities occurring after the death of Gabby Petito and not related to her actual demise.”
On 2 October 2021, David Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County in Florida, claimed more serious criminal charges against Laundrie would be “extremely likely” if he was found alive.
Defending his office for not filing charges against Laundrie, he said “prosecutors have a higher burden to prove cases beyond any reasonable doubt”.
Asked by News Nation Now why Laundrie hadn’t been charged with a more serious crime at that point in the disappearance and death of the YouTuber, Mr Aronberg added: “I think that’s coming.”
Social media under scrutiny
Prior to setting out on their road trip on 2 July 2021, Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie had saved up money and quit their jobs to travel across the US as part of a growing neo-hippie movement of “van lifers”, who eschew a convential lifestyle in search of freedom and adventure.
Their Instagram accounts documented parts of their trip, with the first post appearing on the day of their departure. They posted about Kansas’ Monument Rocks, Colorado Springs, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce National Park in Utah and Canyonlands National Park as their journey progressed.
“Downsizing our life to fit into this itty bitty van was the best decision we’ve ever made,” Laundrie wrote on Instagram that month. “Sacrificing space to wake up in nature every day has been no sacrifice at all.”
It was these posts that inspired enormous interest in the case and were seized on by an army of online sleuths who joined the effort to help locate Petito when she was first declared missing.
They pored over her Instagram posts, searching for any inconsistencies, clues or possible causes for concern.
She last posted a photo on her Instagram account on 26 August, a picture of herself in front of a butterfly mural with a small knitted pumpkin in her hand and the caption “happy halloween”.
Her previous post, on 19 August, showed the view of a park from inside her van.
Unlike her usual posts, neither of these two featured a location tag.
Some Instagram users pointed out that this was not her usual style and that her hair appeared to have been freshly dyed in the photo.
Laundrie’s social media accounts have also been attracting significant attention.
A Pinterest page suspected of being Laundrie’s purported to offer new clues into his state of mind in the weeks before his girlfriend’s disappearance.
One image shared widely shows a sketch of ghostly figures, a gravestone and text scattered throughout which reads “let her go, let her go, God bless her, wherever she may be”. It is taken from the 1933 Betty Boop cartoon Snow White, in which Cab Calloway sings “St James Infirmary Blues”, whose lyrics the post contains.
In a separate post, text at the bottom of an image reads: “Don’t try to find me,” and “I have finally escaped my ‘master’s’ wicked clutches. To the others I say: JOIN ME. Bite the hand that feeds you. Vive La Liberte.”
Another folder entitled “Life Goals” shared by Laundrie, was co-authored by his mother and Petito, who appeared to be using it to make plans for the couple’s wedding.
On Instagram, Brian Laundrie generally presented himself as an outdoorsman, a devoted boyfriend and an artist with conspiratorial leanings.
Brian Laundrie’s remains found
Police found partial human remains inside the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on 20 October 2021 near where items belonging to Brian Laundrie, including his backpack and notebook, were found earlier in the day. Mr Laundrie’s parents visited the park to examine the items. The Sarasota medical examiner was called to the scene, as were human remains detecting dogs.
A large tent was erected at the park where the clothes were found. The clothes were found shortly after Laundrie’s parents joined law enforcement to search the park on Wednesday morning.
The FBI later made a statement explaining that the findings were in an area that had previously been underwater and said: “The team will be on the scene for several days,” adding that law enforcement were working “diligently” to confirm the identity of the remains.
A day later the remains were confirmed to be his.
Laundrie’s parents, who have been under fire throughout the case for perceived lack of cooperation, released a statement via their lawyer, sayin“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the remains found yesterday in the reserve are indeed Brian’s,” said Mr Bertolino in a statement.
On 24 June 2022, a confession note found alongside Laundrie’s body was released in which he explained why he had killed Ms Petito.
Laundrie, 23, admitted killing Ms Petito, 22, and perversely claimed he thought her death was “merciful”.
“I ended her life,” Laundrie wrote in a notebook recovered by the FBI from the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park alongside Laundrie’s body on 20 October 2021.
“I thought it was merciful, that it is what she wanted, but I see now all the mistakes I made.
“I panicked. I was in shock. But from the moment I decided I took away her pain, I knew I couldn’t go on without her.”
Laundrie claimed in the confession note that Ms Petito had been injured after falling into a creek prior to her death.
“I found her breathing heavily gasping my name, she was freezing cold,” he wrote.
“I carried her as far as I could down the stream towards the car, stumbling exhausted in shock, when my knees buckled and knew I couldn’t safely carry her. I started a fire and spooned her as close to the heat, she was so thin, had already been freezing too long. I couldn’t at the time realize that I should’ve started a fire first but I wanted her out of the cold back to the car.”
Laundrie wrote that his girlfriend’s feet and wrists hurt, and she was violently shaking from the cold.
He claimed she was “gasping in pain, begging for an end to her pain”.
“I don’t know the extent of Gabby’s injurys (sic). Only that she was in extreme pain.”
Laundrie said he decided he “couldn’t go on” after strangling his girlfriend of nearly three years.
“From the moment I decided, took away her pain, I knew I couldn’t go on without her.”
Brian Laundrie died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Petitos file civil lawsuits against the Laundries
In the suit, Petito’s parents also accuse Chris and Roberta Laundrie of planning to help Brian leave the country.
In an amendment filed in April, the Petito family alleged that, not only did the Laundries know their 23-year-old son had murdered his girlfriend, but they knew the location of her remains.
The Laundries are seeking to have the case dismissed, and a hearing was held on 22 June in the Sarasota County Circuit Court in Venice, Florida.
Petito attorney Pat Reilly honed in on a statement issued by Mr Bertolino on 16 September that said “it is our hope that the search for Ms Petito is successful”.
Mr Reilly claimed the Laundries had deliberately put out a false statement when they knew she was not alive.
“That’s callous, it’s shameful, it’s outrageous,” he said, adding that the only reason Mr Bertolino was not a defendant in the civil case was because he’s not a resident of Florida.
In November, the Petitos were awarded $3m from the wrongful death lawsuit.
In a statement to The Independent, the Petito’s attorney Patrick Reilly said no amount of money could compensate the family for their heartbreak.
Mr Reilly said he was unsure if the family would receive the full $3m figure, and that any money received from the judgment would go towards the Gabby Petito Foundation.
Nichole Schmidt has also filed a separate wrongful death claim against Laundrie’s estate.
Ms Schmidt states in the suit that Laundrie intentionally killed her 22-year-old daughter, causing her and her ex-husband Joseph Petito to incur funeral and burial expenses, and suffer “a loss of probable future companionship, society and comfort”.
Ms Schmidt is seeking a trial by jury and a judgment for compensatory damages of $30,000 in the suit.
Petitos file second suit against Moab police
Petito’s parents filed a $50m wrongful death lawsuit against Moab police on 3 November 2022, alleging officer’s misconduct may have led to their daughter’s murder.
The court filing accuses Moab City Police Department of failing to follow the law and protect Petito when they pulled her and Laundrie over for a suspected domestic violence incident last August weeks before her she was killed.
In a statement, family attorney James McConkie said: “The purpose of the lawsuit is to honour Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and working toward systemic changes to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future.”
The suit alleges that one of the Moab police officers who questioned Petito on 12 August last year was “fundamentally biased” against her, and failed to accurately consider the danger she was in.
The Petito’s lawyers say they have evidence that officer Eric Pratt had threatened to kill a woman when their relationship ended The Salt Lake City Tribune reported.