Gabby Petito’s family speaks; FBI leads search for Laundrie

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 10:51 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2021 at 1:21 PM EDT
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NORTH PORT, Fla. (WWSB/Gray News) - Gabby Petito’s family thanked law enforcement, media, social media and everyone who helped find her during a Tuesday news conference in New York.

The family said they plan on starting a foundation in her memory, the details of which are being worked out.

“We need positive stuff” to come from what happened, said her father Joseph Petito.

He in particular credited people on social media and the news media.

“This same time of awareness should be continued for everyone, everyone” in regard to missing persons cases, Joseph Petito said.

They said they are happy with the FBI’s response to the case, who they said has been with them from the beginning.

The family attorney, Richard Stafford, urged Brian Laundrie to turn himself in to authorities.

The FBI has now taken charge of the search for Laundrie in Florida and is switching strategies, WWSB reported.

Tuesday marks Day 11 of the search for Laundrie, the fiance of 22-year-old Petito. Her body was found Sept. 19 in Wyoming after she did not return home with Laundrie from a cross-country trip and was reported missing.

The FBI’s search is “targeted based on intelligence” as they comb areas where they think Laundrie is most likely to be.

Better weather conditions for the searchers are expected for the next few days. The Carlton Reserve, where much of the search has focused, is expected to be much drier this week after heavy rainfall flooded the majority of the territory.

If waters can recede this week as the rain holds back, crews will have a better shot at reaching areas that were previously too difficult to explore.

As the search for their son continues, the Laundrie family lawyer told reporters Monday that his parents do not know where he went.

“Chris and Roberta Laundrie do not know where Brian is,” Steven Bertolino’s text to media outlets said. “They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him. The speculation by the public and some in the press that the parents assisted Brian in leaving the family home or in avoiding arrest on a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is just wrong.”

Lines of mourners paid their respects Sunday for Petito in Holbrook, New York, including family members, friends, co-workers and people who were touched by her story even though they didn’t know her.

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

Two fire trucks were positioned one on either side of the funeral home. Across the street, a chain link fence was adorned with posters featuring Petito’s image and messages such as, “She touched the world.”

Laundrie and Petito grew up on Long Island but in recent years moved to Florida. She was reported missing Sept. 11 by her parents after she didn’t respond to calls and texts for several days while she and Laundrie visited parks in the West.

Lexi Ruiz recalled working with Petito at a cafe in nearby Patchogue that Ruiz managed.

“She was always willing to help someone else,” Ruiz said. “She was just such a light. Anywhere she went the room lit up. It’s nice to see so many people come together and support her family.”

Inside the funeral home, dozens of floral arrangements and childhood photos of Petito lined the walls, some capturing her travels. One floral arrangement sent from Norwalk, Connecticut, read, “I don’t know you but your story broke me.”

Mourners were greeted with a placard bearing a poem titled “Let it Be” that began with the line, “Do not grieve for me for I am free.”

Petito’s death has been classified as homicide, meaning she was killed by another person, but medical examiners in Wyoming haven’t disclosed how she died pending further autopsy results.

The couple posted online about their trip in a white Ford Transit van converted into a camper. They got into a physical altercation Aug. 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop for a possible domestic violence case. Ultimately, police there decided to separate the quarreling couple for the night. But no charges were filed, and no serious injuries were reported.

Investigators have been searching for Laundrie in Florida, and searched his parents’ home in North Port.

On Thursday, federal officials in Wyoming charged Laundrie with unauthorized use of a debit card, alleging he used a Capital One Bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorized withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing. They did not say who the card belonged to.

Copyright 2021 WWSB via Gray Media Group, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to the report. All rights reserved.