Who is Gabby Petito? ‘Sweet’ waitress whose dream of influencer fame ended in tragedy

Gabby Petito, whose body was found Sunday, had been described by loved ones as ‘sweet’ and ‘selfless’

Sheila Flynn
Monday 20 September 2021 16:32
Police, Gabby Petito Family Address Media
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The FBI’s announcement that the body discovered at a Wyoming national park matches the description of Gabby Petito marked a tragic end for all following the missing persons case of the van life blogger.

“Earlier today, human remains were discovered consistent with Gabby Petito,” Charles Jones, supervisory senior agent in Wyoming for FBI Denver, announced on Sunday at a news conference. “Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100 percent but her family has been notified.

“The cause of death has not been determined at this time.”

He added: “I would like to extend sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family ... as every parents can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Ms Petito was an aspiring blogger who grew up on Long Island, where she met her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, when they were children. The 22-year-old set off with him on a cross-country trip in July, documenting the journey and the pair’s lives as they travelled.

The van-life blogger shared snaps of her travels with Mr Laundrie, commenting that converting her Ford Transit van had been “such an adventure in itself”.

“I couldn’t love the way it turned out more! All the places it’s brought us so far have been amazing!” Ms Petito wrote on her Instagram account in July after visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Ms Petito’s mother Nicole Schmidt told KSL: “She wanted to cross the country in the camper van and live the van life and live free. This was her dream.”

The blogger also shared her experience of travelling with Mr Laundrie, who she said hiked barefoot and “inspires me everyday on living a more natural lifestyle”.

Prior to sharing experiences about their travels, Ms Petito posted a throwback picture of Mr Laundrie from their first date and shared the news that they were engaged.

A longtime friend of hers on Long Island, Nikki Passannante, said Ms Petito was “sweet, free-spirited and selfless”, she told Insider.

“There’s always been a warmth about her. When people meet her, they instantly love her.”

Ms Passannante said her friend had “always been very up and out” and loved “travelling and living a nomadic life”.

Ms Petito and Laundrie moved to Florida after Long Island and got engaged but had reportedly later decided to return to simply dating given their young age.

She had worked at a juice bar before leaving to hit the road with Laundrie in a converted camper van.

“She loved that van life,” her father said after family reported her missing. “Clothes didn’t impress her. Cars didn’t impress her. Experiences – that’s what impressed her.”

Both friends and family claimed it would be uncharacteristic of Ms Petito to go off on her own. She regularly spoke with and texted her mother during the cross-country trip.

She was last heard from in late August, speaking with her mother on 25 August and sending a text on 30 August, but relatives have expressed doubts that Ms Petito sent the message herself.

Also in August, police were called in Moab, Utah after the couple got into a major argument. No charges were filed.

Mr Laundrie returned to Florida in his girlfriend’s van on 1 September, but there was no sign of Ms Petito. He refused to speak to investigators and, on Friday, was reported missing by his parents, who said they hadn’t seen him since he left their North Port home on Tuesday.

The case has transfixed the nation and sparked a frenzy among amateur internet sleuths. The FBI on Sunday urged anyone who may have seen Ms Petito, her boyfriend or their van – particularly between 27 and 30 August near Spread Creek campsite in Wyoming, where her body was found – to share tips and images with authorities.

“This is an active and ongoing investigation,” the FBI said on Sunday.