Gabby Petito family take action on first Christmas without daughter to stop ‘others ever suffering the same’

‘Gabby’s family could have grieved in silence, but instead they chose to help other families and survivors’

Andrew Buncombe
Seattle
Wednesday 22 December 2021 19:38
Parents of Gabby Petito breaks silence

The family of Gabby Petito, confronting their first Christmas without her, are taking action to honour her memory by financially backing groups that work to track down missing people.

They hope the move will ensure “that no one ever has to experience what she did”.

In the weeks and months since the 22-year-old went missing as she and her fiancee, Brian Laundrie, made a cross-country road trip, donations have poured in from across the world.

Initially this money was intended to help in the search effort. When her body was discovered in September at a campsite 20 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming, the money was transferred to the control of a foundation established in her name.

This week, as Gabby’s family prepared for the first holiday season without her, the foundation announced it had made donations to three groups working to help missing people. One of the organisations, the AWARE Foundation, was the first group Gabby’s parents turned to get word out she had gone missing.

“We want to honour Gabby’s memory and life by ensuring that no one ever has to experience what she did,” Nichole Schmidt, Gabby’s mother, said in a statement.

“We want survivors to know that they aren’t alone and that there are amazing organizations ready to help.”

The other two groups to receive donations are the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and SafeSpace, which is based on Florida’s Treasure Coast, north of Palm Beach.

“These three organisations are doing incredible work on the front lines of missing persons and responding to those impacted by abuse,” said Joe Petito, the young woman’s father and who set up the foundation alongside Gabby’s mother.

Gary Rider, a member of the foundation’s board, told The Independent, that $20,000 was being given to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and $15,000 to each of the others.

“[Eighty-five per cent] of the donations or else funds raised through sales on the foundation website, are from the US,” he said. “But we have had donations from eight other countries.”

The young woman and her 24-year-old fiancée had set off in July with a plan to visit many of the nation’s national parks. When her mother stopped getting the regular updates she had been receiving from her daughter, she reported her missing to the police.

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie set off on a cross-country trip in July

The case sparked massive national attention, in large part because Laundrie had returned to the couple’s home in Florida, with their white Ford Transit van, but refused to cooperate with police who were looking for her. He and his parents then hired a lawyer.

Some criticised the amount of media attention the case received, pointing out that had the young woman been Black, Latina or Indigenous, she would not have had similar treatment.

On September 19, the young woman’s body was discovered at the Spread Creek Dispersed Campsite in Bridger-Teton National Forest. Days later, Teton County Coroner Dr Brent Blue ruled her death a homicide, and weeks after that, it was announced she had been manually strangled to death.

Police, who had named Laundrie a person of interest but never filed any charges, then spent weeks trying to locate him. In the end, his remains were located in October in the Carlton Reserve, close to the couple’s home in North Port.

His parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, told the authorities they believed their son had left home on 13 September. Officials later determined he had died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head.

Since the young woman’s death, her parents have been trying to use their voices to raise awareness about cases of other missing people, as well as the factors that can push people into dangerous situations.

The foundation said since her death, “thousands of people have reached out to the foundation to share their stories, seek support and connect with fellow survivors”.

'Just as important as Gabby Petito': Mom's desperate search for vanished daughter

To date, more than 300 people hd contacted the National Domestic Violence Hotline from the foundation’s website.

“We know that survivors are extremely strong and resourceful. We are amazed every day by their bravery,” said Katie Ray-Jones the hotline’s CEO. “The Hotline is here to support them 24/7 and this contribution from the Gabby Petito Foundation will allow us to continue our critical services during a time when those impacted by domestic violence are at increased risk of abuse.”

In October 2021, the hotline experienced one of the highest contact volumes in a single month in its 25-year history.

The foundation said SafeSpace’s mission was empower adult victims of domestic violence and their children through intervention, prevention and advocacy services. It has provided around 500,000 safe nights of shelter to more than 40,000 victims and children.

“We are grateful to be partnering with the Gabby Petito Foundation in providing life-saving services, and bringing heightened awareness to the worldwide epidemic of intimate partner violence,” said SafeSpace CEO Teresa Albizu.

This money will be used to support SafeSpace opening a 19-bed emergency shelter in Indian River County.

Kenny Jarels of AWARE, said: “Gabby's family decided to make a difference. They could have grieved in silence, and everyone would have understood, but instead they chose to help other families and survivors through the Gabby Petito Foundation.”

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