She touched the world


Associated Press

On September 26th, hundreds of mourners congregated in Holbrook, New York to pay their respects to Petito. Fire trucks positioned themselves on either side of the funeral home as everyone filed into the building. Posters also hung from a chain link fence adorned with pictures of Petito and messages, focusing on one primary statement made from her aunt in a letter: “She touched the world.”

Hannah Gresham, Features Editor

High school sweethearts Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie announced their engagement on July 2nd, 2020. Exactly a year later, the young couple left in their 2012 Ford transit for a 4-month cross-country trip, from which only Laundrie would return. 

According to social media posts, the pair traveled from Florida to Kansas, Colorado, and Utah, touring and camping at several national parks and natural attractions. Despite the seemingly happy appearance they kept up in the media, on August 12th witnesses called police on reports of disorderly conduct between the two. Descriptions stated the couple got into a small physical altercation following an argument but claimed they loved each other and did not want to see anyone charged with a crime, so the police just separated the two overnight. 

On September 1st Laundrie allegedly returned to the home he shared with Gabby and his parents in North Port, Florida. She remained in regular contact with her family throughout her trip, but that contact abruptly stopped around the end of August. The family reported her missing on September 11th, and when police attempted to talk to the Laundrie family, they simply handed them a lawyer’s number. The fiance’s lack of availability to help the girl he claimed to love forced the police to name him as a person of interest in the investigation.

 The Petito/Shmidt (Gabby’s step-family) family’s attorney, Richard Stafford, read aloud a letter to Laundrie’s parents not long after the ordeal began. At the press conference, they pleaded for Brian to speak up about what he knows and begged for their daughter’s safe return. 

“We believe you know the location 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,” Stafford, the attorney, said

Mere hours after the Petitio family held the press conference, Brian Laundrie’s sister, Cassie Laundrie, spoke on the topic in an exclusive interview with Good Morning America. She believes nothing out of the ordinary happened and claims that her family only wants Petito to return home safe. Soon after, Laundrie’s parents finally reached out to the police on September 17th to report Brian missing. They admitted to not seeing him for several days, and the police began a search for the pair in a vast Florida wildlife reserve. 

Two days later, law enforcement agents found Petito’s body in Wyoming and the autopsy revealed she died of strangulation. The U.S. District Court of Wyoming issued an arrest warrant and indictment for Laundrie and offered two separate rewards totaling $30,000 for anyone who provides law enforcement with his whereabouts. 

Sadly, this complicated case does not come to a solid ending. Gabby’s murderer remains uncertain, leaving her family without justice for their adventurous daughter. However, on October 20th, investigators found a body in the Carlton Reserve in North Port, Florida. The unidentified remains laid in an area that until recently rested underwater, and items belonging to Laundire sat nearby. Only two days later, authorities confirmed the body to belong to Laundrie with the help of dental records. 

Despite the unknown cause of death, the extensive amount of media coverage allows the public to form their own theories about what happened. For example, internet sleuths claim that his parents placed Laundrie’s remains there, or that the 23-year-old deserves the title of a serial killer. Most people still consider Laundrie’s silence in the investigation an implication for his involvement in Petito’s murder. The nationwide search for the fiance finally ended and hopefully, Petito’s family will gain closure to her tragic death.

“She was a beautiful soul; she was full of life, always smiling, she gave you love. She was just a beautiful soul. She touched everybody as she did now,” Desiree Keeffe, a friend of Petito’s mother, said.