Episode 010: Gabby Petito

September 20, 2021

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie embarked on a cross-country road trip, but only Brian returned home. As the investigation unfolds, the nation asks, “What happened to Gabby?”

Episode Media
Gabby Petito (Instagram)
Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito (Instagram)
Gabby and Brian camping (YouTube)
Timeline of events

Body cam footage, August 12.
The only video posted on Gabby & Brian’s YouTube Channel. Posted August 19.
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week’s case is a bit different from the cases I normally cover. The recent disappearance of Gabby Petito has received a lot of media attention in the last week, and it is still ongoing. Every day there is new information coming out, and I’m sure there will be even more developments between the recording and release of this episode. So why am I choosing to devote an entire episode to this case now, rather than waiting to see the outcome? Honestly, some of it is selfish – I have been obsessed with this case since I heard about it and I figured all of the research I was already doing might be interesting to you as well. But I also feel that this is a case with so many twists and turns that it can be overwhelming to the average news-follower, to the point where many people will lose interest just because it’s hard to keep up with the flood of information. So, my hope is that dedicating my tenth podcast episode to Gabby’s story will help clarify the facts and maybe even bring some new eyes to the case.

That being said, there are a LOT of details, unverified rumors, and theories in this case, too many to cover in a short, “bite-sized” episode. To simplify everything, I will be telling the story in a chronological order, laying out the events as they unfolded day by day. If you want to do a deeper dive into the case, I recommend checking out my list of sources on bitesizedcrimepod.com.

So let’s dive in. Gabrielle Petito, known to her friends and family as Gabby, grew up on Long Island, New York. She began dating Brian Laundrie in high school. In 2019, when Gabby was 20 and Brian 21, the couple moved to North Port, Florida to live with Brian’s parents. They started traveling together and posting about their journeys on social media.

In July of 2020, Gabby announced on her Instagram that Brian had proposed and she said yes. In December of that year, they purchased a white 2012 Ford transit van that they converted into a sort of camper. They traveled around the southeast and began preparing for a longer trip.

Fast forward to July of 2021. Gabby and Brian were back on Long Island to celebrate Gabby’s younger brother’s high school graduation. On July 2nd, the pair embarked on a cross-country road trip in their van. They were planning to visit as many state and national parks as they could over the next few months. 

The entire time they traveled, Gabby kept in regular contact with her family through phone calls, texts, and FaceTime whenever she could get cell service. 

On July 4th, Gabby made her first Instagram post of the trip from Monument Rocks in Kansas. Over the next three weeks, Gabby and Brian documented their travels on social media, posting from Colorado Springs, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon. On July 31st, Gabby posted from Canyonlands National Park in Utah. After that, there are no Instagram posts from either Gabby or Brian until the afternoon of August 12th, nearly two weeks later, when Gabby posted two sets of photos geotagged at Arches National Park.

That same day, August 12th, the Moab City Police Department received a call from a witness saying he saw a couple fighting outside of the Moonflower Community Cooperative. The witness saw Brian trying to lock Gabby out of the van and taking her keys. Gabby then clawed her way in through the driver’s side door and climbed over Brian to get into the van. The witness said he “feared the worst” and decided to call 911.

Officers responded to the Moonflower Cooperative, but Gabby and Brian were already gone. At 4:45pm, Officer Daniel Robbins stopped Brian and Gabby at the entrance of Arches National Park. When he turned on his siren, the van began driving erratically, hitting a curb before coming to a stop. On the body cam footage, Officer Robbins is heard saying, “Driver is showing some obscure driving. Possibly intoxicated.”

For the next hour, Robbins and several other responding officers question Gabby and Brian. I will do my best to describe the important parts of the incident, but I encourage you to watch the bodycam footage, which is available on my website, to get the full picture. 

The video shows Gabby visibly upset as Officer Robbins walks up to her side of the van. She rolls down the window and apologizes immediately, saying, “We’ve just been fighting this morning. Some personal issues.” Brian apologizes for hitting the curb, and Gabby says, “I was distracting him from driving. I’m sorry.”

Robbins asks Gabby to step out of the vehicle and pulls her to the side to ask if everything is okay. Gabby, still crying, says that she’s just stressed and has been struggling with her mental health while traveling and working. “It’s just some days, I have really bad OCD, and I was just cleaning and straightening up and I was apologizing to him saying that I’m so mean because sometimes I have OCD and get frustrated.” Robbins then puts Gabby in the back of his cruiser, assuring her that she is not in trouble, but that he wants her to have a moment in the air conditioning to collect herself.

At this point, a second officer has arrived, and they ask Brian to get out of the van and put his keys on the hood. They ask Brian to explain what happened. He said they were arguing all morning because they were trying to rush to get the day started and head to Archers Point. 

Officer Robbins then asks Brian about the scratches on his face and arm. Brian says that he locked the van and walked away from Gabby, telling her that they needed to “take a breather.” He then says that Gabby tried to take his keys, so he pushed her away and she scratched him in the process. He then says that he hit the curb because Gabby grabbed the wheel when she realized they were getting pulled over. He apologizes multiple times for speeding.

The second officer then asks Gabby, who is still in the police cruiser, about her fight with Brian. She says that Brian grabbed her face during their argument and that Brian gets frustrated with her a lot when she is anxious and worked up. She tells the officer that she did not grab the wheel like Brian claimed, but that she hit him in the arm because she was angry that they were getting pulled over.

By now, four officers are on the scene. They ask Brian to tell them the story again. Brian says that he and Gabby had been squabbling but that it was “just a disagreement”. He again says that he pushed her away from him and that he then “got loud” and yelled at her to get away. 

At this point, Officer Robbins asks both Brian and Gabby if they take any medications, but their responses are redacted from the released body cam footage. Brian does say that he’s not sure if Gabby takes any medications.

One of the other officers, Officer Pratt, tells Brian that according to state law, they need to charge Gabby with domestic assault and issue a no-contact order. Brian would be able to go to the police department the next day and sign a waiver to drop the no-contact order. Brian responds, “I’m not going to pursue anything because she is my fiancé and I love her.” He even jokes that he should be the one to go to jail so that Gabby won’t have to.

The officers continue to go back and forth between Brian and Gabby. Officer Pratt asks Gabby what her intention was when she hit Brian, and she says, “I was trying to get him to stop telling me to calm down.” At this point, the officers step aside to discuss the situation. None of them believe that Gabby was trying to hurt Brian, but that the two should definitely be separated for the night. Much of their conversation is redacted, but Pratt tells Robbins, “If they find themselves together again, what is it to you? You separated them, you provided for his safety. If he doesn’t have enough sense to stay away, it’s on him.”

Ultimately, Officer Robbins decides not to charge Gabby with domestic assault. In his later report, he writes, “After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis.” Robbins then takes pictures of Brian’s scratches for evidence, gives Gabby the keys to the van, and instructs the couple to have no contact with each other until the morning. He tells Gabby, “I’m giving you the keys to the van. I’m giving him a ride to the hotel. Everything will be okay.”

The bodycam footage ends with Robbins giving Brian a ride to a nearby hotel. They exchange small talk about the national parks during the short ride. At the hotel, Brian is all smiles as he gets out of the car. Robbins gives him one final reminder to not contact Gabby before the video ends.

After this incident, both Gabby and Brian were silent on social media for a while. Brian made two Instagram posts from Moab on August 13th, and he has not posted anything since. Gabby didn’t post again until August 19th, but both pictures in the post were photos she recycled from a few weeks earlier. She also posted an 8-minute long video on their YouTube channel that featured a montage of their travels. 

Now here’s where things take an even stranger turn. On August 17th, in the middle of their cross-country road trip, Brian flew back to Florida to help his father move his and Gabby’s things out of their shared storage unit. He stayed in Florida for nearly a week, flying back to Utah on August 23rd. So far there has been no explanation as to why Brian felt the need to leave Gabby in the middle of Utah for a week or why they had to empty out the storage unit at all.

Whatever his reason, Brian and Gabby reunited in Salt Lake City on August 23rd. On the 24th, they were seen checking out of their hotel. Gabby FaceTimed with her mother and told her she and Brian were headed to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

The next day, August 25th, was the 105th birthday of the National Park Service, so admission to the park was free, and it’s likely that Gabby and Brian would have taken advantage of that to explore. Gabby and her mother exchanged multiple text messages that day, and her mother believes she was in the Teton area at the time.

Around 5pm, Gabby and Brian’s van was spotted in the Jenny Lake parking area by another visitor to the park. The woman said the van stuck out to her because it was something she wanted for herself. “It had the black ladder on the back and the two black rooftops on top, the two bars, and we made the comment that it would be the perfect little camper van to go around in.” The woman’s husband even commented that it was the same van they used on the TV show American Pickers.

Around 5:30pm, Gabby made her last Instagram post. It was a series of pictures of her posing in front of the Monarch Mural in Ogden, Utah. Since the mural is about four hours away from the Grand Teton National Park, it seems likely that the pictures were taken earlier in the week and posted later.

On August 27th, Gabby texts her mother and a friend that she is heading to Yellowstone National Park. The friend said that she and Gabby planned to meet up in Yellowstone and that they were going to call each other in a few days.

That same day around 6pm, a couple driving through the Spread Creek campground in Grand Teton spotted a white transit van with Florida plates parked in the trees on the side of the gravel road. They said they were going to stop and say hello because they were also from Florida, but the van appeared to be abandoned. In the video they posted to YouTube, the van looks identical to Gabby and Brian’s.

On August 29th, two days after the van was spotted, Gabby’s friend tried to call her so they could meet up in Yellowstone. However, Gabby didn’t answer.

That evening around 5:30pm, Brian was spotted alone in Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton. He asked a couple for a ride to Jackson and offered them $200 for the trip. He told them that his fiance was back in their van working on their social media and that he had just spent several days camping by the Snake River. The woman who picked him up said that Brian was very clean and well-kept for someone who had been camping in an unregulated campground for several days, and that he seemed unprepared, carrying only a half-empty backpack with just a tarp to sleep on. He didn’t have any food or other camping gear with him.

The drive from Colter Bay to Jackson is about 55 miles, but just ten minutes into the drive, the woman mentioned that they were also headed to Jackson Hole and Brian started to freak out. He asked the couple to pull over, and he jumped out of the car, saying he would just find someone else to hitch a ride from. In a video posted to her TikTok account, the woman said she believes Brian wanted to go north toward Grand Teton and Yellowstone and panicked when he realized they were driving south. She said that anyone familiar with the area would know that Jackson and Jackson Hole are the same place, and that an experienced hiker would know north from south. 

After that, there are only unverified sightings of Brian over the next week, including a commenter on Gabby’s YouTube video who thinks he saw Brian alone in the van at a gas station in Jackson around midnight on August 29th. The commenter said that Brian was in a bad mood, cursing to himself while throwing garbage away. Again, this has not been verified.

On August 30th, Gabby’s mom got a text from Gabby saying, “No service in Yosemite.” Gabby’s mom does not believe the text came from Gabby. 

On September 1st, Brian suddenly showed up at his parent’s house in North Port, Florida. He had the van, but Gabby was nowhere to be seen. Without stopping, the trip would have taken Brian at least 36 hours. Even on that extremely tight timeline, he would have had to leave Wyoming on August 29th or 30th in order to make that drive. 

We don’t know what happened over the next two weeks, but by September 10th, Gabby’s family was frantic. They hadn’t heard from her at all since her last few texts at the end of August. But when they reached out to Brian and his family, their desperate texts and calls were ignored. 

On Saturday, September 11th, Gabby’s mom and stepfather called the Suffolk County Police Department in New York and reported Gabby missing.

That night, officers from the North Port Police Department went to the Laundries’ home and asked to speak with Brian. However, Brian’s parents refused to allow them access to their son.

Although they could not speak with Brian, officers did take possession of the van and brought it in for processing.

On September 14th, the Laundries’ attorney issued a statement on their behalf. “This is an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family. I understand that a search has been organized 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.”

This infuriated Gabby’s family. They issued a statement in response, saying, “The Schmidt and Petito family are going through the worst moments of their lives. Their beautiful 22-year-old daughter is missing and the one person that can help find Gabby refuses to help… Brian is refusing to tell Gabby’s family where he last saw her. Brian is also refusing to explain why he left Gabby all alone and drove her van to Florida… They beg the Laundrie family to not ‘remain in the background’ but to help find who Brian referred to as the love of his life. How does Brian stay in the background when he is the one person that knows where Gabby is located? The Schmidt and Petito family implore Brian to come forward and at least tell us if we are looking in the right area.”

From here, the twists and turns in the case are virtually nonstop.

On September 15th, North Port police announced that Brian Laundrie was officially a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance.

On September 16th, Gabby’s family issued yet another statement, begging Brian and his family for help. “Please, if you or your family have 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 for Gabby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”

On September 17th, the Laundries called North Port police and reported Brian missing. They claimed they had not seen him since Tuesday the 14th. Their attorney told reporters, “the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie are currently unknown. The FBI is currently at the Laundrie residence removing property to assist in locating Brian. As of now the FBI is now looking for both Gabby and Brian.” 

That same day, as police searched the Laundrie house, a neighbor claimed to have seen Brian walking down the road just behind his parents’ house about 15 minutes before officers arrived. The neighbor said he passed Brian several times in his car and even took a picture of him. The man in the picture is clean shaven and wearing sunglasses. He looks very similar to Brian, but nothing has been confirmed.

Brian’s parents said they believe that Brian went hiking in the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County. They said he left on Tuesday wearing a hiking bag with a waist strap. On September 18th, North Port police officers and FBI agents began to search the reserve, which encompasses 25,000 acres of alligator-infested land. Five local agencies joined the search, employing land and air vehicles, K9 units, and drones in a wide scale grid search. Police said that evidence bags containing Brian’s clothes were used for the search dogs.

A spokesman for the North Port Police Department said, “We’re hopeful that he’s out here. Certainly, we prepare for all different possibilities, but you know, our goal is to locate him and bring him back to North Port.” He also indicated that, depending on his wilderness skills, Brian could survive for quite a while without being found.

That same day, the North Port Police announced that they had limited access to both Gabby and Brian’s phone data. Investigators said they would need to get search warrants in order to gain complete access. Once they do get that access, it will still take days or even weeks to gather the information.

On Sunday, September 19th, literally as I was writing this episode, the FBI announced that a body matching Gabby’s description had been found in Grand Teton National Park. Special Agent Charles Jones said, “Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100% that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified of this discovery. The cause of death has not been determined at this time.”  

According to the FBI, the body was found in the Spread Creek dispersed camping area, the same place Gabby and Brian’s van was spotted on August 27th. The area around the campsite will remain closed while agents continue to investigate the scene.

Although Gabby’s remains have been found, this is still an active, ongoing investigation. Brian is still missing, and he is still a person of interest. He was the last person to see Gabby and the only one who knows what happened to her. If you have any information about Gabby or Brian, please contact the FBI at 1-800-225-5324, or submit a tip online at fbi.gov.