Florida Woman Missing Following Cross-Country Trip With Boyfriend

Florida Woman Missing Following Cross-Country Trip With Boyfriend white ford transit drives down highway (Dreamstime)

By Theodore Bunker | Thursday, 16 September 2021 10:51 AM

Gabrielle Petito, a 22-year-old woman from Florida, has been reported missing after going on a cross-country roadtrip in a converted camper van with her boyfriend, who has since returned home and is considered a person of interest by police, The New York Times reports.

Petito and her boyfriend, 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, left from New York on July 2 on their trip, which was intended to last four months and take them across the country while camping in various national parks. Petito last contacted her family in late August after traveling to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming with Laundrie, who returned alone to their home in Florida in Petito’s 2012 white Ford Transit on Sept. 1.

Police in Moab, Utah, responded to a reported "domestic problem" between the couple on Aug. 12 on the side of the road outside Arches National Park, CBS News reports. Body camera footage shows Petitio telling officers: "I have really bad OCD. I was apologizing to him saying I’m sorry I’m so mean," adding, "We’ve been fighting all morning. He wouldn’t let me in the car before … he told me I needed to calm down."

The report notes that at one point, Petito began slapping Laundrie and he "grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van."

Laundrie said that Petito hit him with her phone at one point, saying, "She just gets worked up sometimes, I try to distance myself from her. I locked the car. I said, ‘Let’s just take a breather.’ She had her phone. I was trying to push her away to say, ‘Let’s just take a step back.’"

Officers did not file criminal charges in what the couple reportedly called a "mental/emotional health break," according to the Times, and did not classify the incident as domestic assault. The officers added that the couple decided to stay apart for the night, with police arranging a hotel room for Laundrie and allowing Petito to take her van.

Local law enforcement say that Laundrie has refused to cooperate with police, who have seized the van and processed it for evidence. Although Laundrie is a person of interest, a broad term that can refer to someone who may have been involved in or have knowledge of a crime, he has not been arrested or declared a suspect.

"We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks," North Port police Chief Todd Garrison said on Wednesday, according to NPR. "The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out."

A spokesperson for the department, Josh Taylor, added to reporters: "We don’t know what Brian knows. That’s the bottom line, and we’re hopeful to talk to him. He needs to talk to us."

An attorney for Laundrie, Steven Bertolino of East Islip, New York, said that he advised his client not to talk with law enforcement because the romantic partners of missing persons are the ones who law enforcement "focuses their attention on in cases like this."

A lawyer for Petito’s family told CBS in a statement that "Gabby's family was instructed by law enforcement to not discuss the details of Gabby and Brian's relationship."