GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (KUTV) — A body that is “consistent” with the description of Gabby Petito was found Sunday in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, where she was last known to be, officials said.
The cause of death has not been determined at this time.
Officials said at a press conference Sunday evening there is an ongoing investigation in the area and they ask the public to keep their distance. At this time, they have not confirmed that their discovery is definitively Petito but her family has been notified.
Background on the case
Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was last seen in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Nichole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, said the last text she received from her daughter was on Aug. 30.
On Sept. 11, Petito’s family reported Gabby missing when they were unable to contact her. Petito’s father posted on social media that his daughter had last been seen traveling to Yellowstone National Park from Salt Lake City.
According to her social media posts, Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, had embarked on a cross-country tour in a Ford Transit. Many of her posts included the hashtag #vanlife.
Laundrie returned home to Florida on Sept. 1, ten days before Petito was reported missing by her family.
He hired an attorney and refused to talk publicly about what happened.
Police said the van the couple traveled in was recovered in North Port, Florida. Petito, who is from New York, lived in North Port with Laundrie and his parents.
On Sept. 17, police went to the Laundrie home when the family’s attorney revealed that Brian’s whereabouts were unknown. An official search began in Florida for Laundrie as the one in Wyoming continued for Petito, capturing more national interest in the case.
Fiancé’s attorney releases statements
Steven Bertolino, a New York-based attorney and counsel for Laundrie’s family, shared the following statement with 2News on Sept. 14:
This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family. It is our understanding 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 re-united 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.
Police stated Laundrie’s lack of information was “hindering this investigation.”
“The answers will eventually come out,” officials added. “We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved in her disappearance.”
A Petito family spokesman, Richard Stafford, issued the following statement on behalf of the family the next day, on Sept. 15:
Everyday the search for Gabby continues the Schmidt and Petito family becomes more desperate. They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter’s disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home. Brian claims he wants to sit in the background while we search for Gabby in the wilderness of the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Brian left Gabby in the wilderness with grizzly bears and wolves while he sits in the comfort of his home. In his home! Brian, how could you do this to Gabby? You selfishly remain silent while Gabby is all alone in the wilderness. Brian, your silence is reprehensible! We beg you to do the right thing and help us [bring] Gabby home. Brian, whatever happened in Wyoming, happened. The only thing you can control is what you do now. Tell us where Gabby is. You tarnish you[r] love for her with your silence.
Bertolino also issued a statement on Sept. 15, saying:
Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito’s absence. In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this and the warning that ‘any statement made will be used against you’ is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on this matter.
Regarding Laundrie being named a person of interest, Bertolino said, “This formality has not really changed the circumstances of Mr. Laundrie being the focus and attention of law enforcement and Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel.”
Ellis Maxwell, a retired West Valley City Police officer who was the lead investigator on the Susan Powell disappearance, told 2News this case is “very concerning and obviously very suspicious.”
Maxwell said Laundrie’s refusal to talk immediately raises suspicion that he’s involved, but that could mean anything.
“There’s a myriad of different accidents that could take place,” Maxwell said, “but again, why would you not talk?”
Moab police release body camera footage
The Moab Police chief confirmed his officers encountered Petito and Laundrie on Aug. 12 at Arches National Park, but said nothing came of the incident.
The incident took place in Moab and was described by officers as a “mental health crisis.” An officer said Petito told him she had been having arguments with Brian that day and was “struggling with her mental health.”
According to the report obtained Wednesday by 2News via a public records request, officers instructed Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie to separate for the night “and regain control of their anxiety.”
According to the police report, the incident was reported at 4:30 p.m. when “the male and female had engaged in some sort of altercation.” Police investigated it as disorderly conduct.
A witness “reported seeing a male, later identified as Brian Laundrie, and a female, later identified as Gabrielle Petito, arguing over a phone.” That witness told police “that when Brian got into the van, he saw what appeared to him as Gabrielle hitting Brian in the arm and then climbing through the driver’s window as if Brian had locked her out and she was trying to find a way in.”
Laundrie said he’d been scratched up by her nails and rings after locking her out of the car.
No charges were pursued against either of them, according to the police report, though police said they considered charging Petito for domestic violence.
“I instructed both Brian and Gabrielle to take advantage of this time apart to relax their emotions and regain control of their anxiety,” the officer wrote.
Another officer, Eric Pratt, noted the couple “reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.”
Brian Laundrie’s whereabouts “unknown”
On Sept. 17, Petito’s fiancé was reported missing by his attorney.
Police in North Port, Florida, went to Laundrie’s family home Friday where protestors had gathered outside. Steven Bertolino, a New York-based attorney and counsel for Laundrie’s family, shared the following statement:
Be advised that the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie are currently unknown. The FBI is currently at the Laundrie residence removing property to assist in locating Brian.
Laundrie, 23, was last seen by his parents on the morning of Sept. 14, his attorney said.
Timeline of Petito’s travels
Petito uploaded vlogs chronicling her travels on a YouTube called “Nomadic Statik.”
She also regularly posted on Instagram, providing a general timeline of events that led up to her disappearance.
Petito’s first Instagram post documenting the trip was posted from Kansas on July 4, two days after their trip began. Her last Instagram post shows her smiling and holding a small crocheted pumpkin with the caption “Happy Halloween.” That was posted on Aug. 25 from a mural in Ogden.
Petito’s stepfather speaks out
James Schmidt, Petito’s stepfather, was in Wyoming Wednesday to assist law enforcement with their investigation of Petito’s disappearance.
“We feel we just need someone here to make contact with law enforcement and just be there if they need any assistance with the investigation,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said it is “frustrating” that Laundrie returned home from the trip with their white Transit van and Petito did not.
Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie family’s attorney, previously issued a statement saying they hope the search for “Miss Petito” is successful. That didn’t sit well with Gabby’s stepfather.
“They didn’t even refer to her as Gabby. Someone who is the love of your life on your social media pages? That’s just callous,” Schmidt said.
Utah experts offer insight
Private investigators said Thursday that information on Petito’s case should come fast as certain factors help narrow down a timeline for when she went missing, particularly thanks to her social media.
“If this case was you know thirty years ago, where you didn’t have your digital footprint as your cellphone, or your onboard computer on your car, you wouldn’t know where to begin to look because they’ve been all over Utah, Wyoming, Colorado,” said Jason Jensen, a private investigator, and co-founder of the Utah Cold Case Coalition.
“The camper that they had is unique” Jensen said. “If you saw it, if you were camping next to that person, you would remember that camper very well. So they’re hoping that others will come forward that can place them at certain locations when they were together, when they were fine.”