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What we know about Gabby Petito’s tragic death

The vlogger’s fiancé Brian Laundrie is believed to be on the run in the ‘gator and snake-infested’ Carlton Reserve in Florida

On Monday September 20 2021, a couple were looking back over footage of their recent road trip across America – which took them through Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming – when they spotted an empty van on the side of the road. Jenn and Kyle Bethune noticed the number plate was from Florida, on the other side of the country, and that’s when alarm bells started ringing. “Oh my god there’s the van!” Mr Bethune said.

They had located the vehicle of Instagrammer and internet personality Gabby Petito, who had been documenting a similar trip with her fiancé Brian Laundrie, but had been reported missing for 10 days. Jenn and Kyle immediately alerted the FBI, who later discovered Petito’s body near where the van had been parked. By this point, Laundrie was already on the run, and his whereabouts unknown to authorities.

The case garnered international attention shortly after the 22-year-old Petito was reported missing by her family on September 11. This was due in part to Petito’s large social media following (who noticed she had suddenly stopped posting) the peculiar behaviour of Laundrie, (who had returned alone to his parent’s home on September 1 and was refusing to cooperate with police) and the bewildering ineptitude of investigating officers.

Cue a vast network of amateur internet sleuths who took it upon themselves to pore over every minute detail of the case, broadcasting their findings on TikTok and YouTube. So what do we know about the case so far and were these non-professional social media detectives providing more help than hindrance? Here's what we know about the case so far:

PETITO AND LAUNDRIE’S TRIP

Van Life vlogger Gabby Petitio and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, embark on what is set to be a four-month cross-country trip through America, stopping at various places of natural beauty, campsites, and national parks along the way. They plan to document their journey on Instagram and YouTube

Laundrie posted a photo to his Instagram on July 5, near the beginning of their travels. “Downsizing our life to fit into this itty bitty van was the best decision we’ve ever made,” he wrote in the caption. “Sacrificing space to wake up in nature everyday has been no sacrifice at all.”

On August 12, the pair are pulled over by police after a 911 caller alerts them to a confrontation between Petito and Laundrie. In police body cam footage, Petito is visibly upset. “We’ve just been fighting this morning,” she says. “Some personal issues.” She adds: “Some days, I have really bad (obsessive compulsive disorder), and I was just cleaning and straightening up and I was apologising to him, saying that I’m so mean because sometimes I have OCD and get frustrated”

The 911 caller clearly reported on the phone that he saw Laundrie slapping Petito. Bizarrely however, the police assume Petito as the aggressor, and separate the pair for the evening, checking Laundrie into a nearby motel while Petito stays in the van. 

On August 27, Petito’s mother receives a strange message from her daughter’s phone: “Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.” Stan is Petitos grandfather, but her mother said that she never called him by his first name. She added that this was out of character and very concerning. She received another text on August 30, simply saying “no service in Yosemite”.

A few days later, on September 1, Laundrie returned to his parents house in North Port, Florida, alone. He and Petito had been living there together. After hearing nothing from Laundrie or their daughter for several days, Petito’s family reported her missing on September 11.

PETITO’S BODY IS FOUND

On September 19, the FBI report that they’ve located the remains of Gabby Petito. The body found near Grand Teton National Park is “consistent with the description” of the missing 22-year-old, officials said at a press conference. 

“As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We ask that you all respect their privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter,” a spokesperson for the FBI said. Officials had been searching the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area just outside Grand Teton National Park.

The coroner rules the death as a homicide, although does not reveal a cause of death.

BRIAN’S WHEREABOUTS

On August 29, two days after Petito’s mother received the first out of character text from her daughter, Laundrie was allegedly seen hitchhiking, and was picked up by Miranda Baker. Baker said she realised it was Laundrie she was picking up after she saw TikTok videos about the case. 

“My boyfriend and I picked up Brian in Grand Teton National Park at 17:30 at night,” Baker said on TikTok. She then relays that Laundrie offered $200 for the 10-mile ride to nearby Jackson, and that he said he’d been camping for several days without his fiancée, who he claimed was back in their van working on their social media channels. Why Laundrie was hitching rides when he had access to the van is unclear. 

In a second TikTok, Baker marks on a map exactly where she picked up Laundrie, Colter Bay, and where she dropped him off, Jackson Lake Dam, some seven miles south. “He kind of like, hurried out of the car, and said he was going to find someone else to hitchhike with. It was a weird situation,” Baker said. Three days later, Laundrie returns home alone, with Petito’s van.

THE LAUNDRIE FAMILY’S STRANGE BEHAVIOUR

Between the dates of September 6 - 8 Laundrie and his parents went camping themselves at Fort De Soto Campground in Florida, according to county officials and the family’s attorney. Laundrie was sighted back at his parent’s house on September 10, a day before Petito was reported missing. On September 14 Laudrie went on the run although his parents did not tell the police until several days later on September 17. They said their son left with a backpack to camp in the nearby Carlton Reserve, sparking an intense manhunt of the “gator and snake-infested” area. 

"Chris and Roberta Laundrie do not know where Brian is,” the Laundrie family attorney, Steven Bertolino, said on September 29. He added: “They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him.” The pair refused to speak to the Petito family at any stage of the investigation, instead releasing a statement through their attorney that they wished to remain “in the background” as the search for both Petito and Laundrie was in full swing.

Unconfirmed theories of Laundrie’s whereabouts are circulating online. One poses the idea that he has made it all the way to Puerto Rico, after location data on hiking app AllTrail flagged the Caribbean island as the current location of a profile under the name Gabby Petito: the theory being that Laundrie has taken Petito’s phone with him. Another theory suggests he might be in Mexico, with this viral picture being offered as a potential sighting south of the border. 

The FBI are treating him as a person of interest and have issued a warrant for his arrest, relating to the unauthorised use of Petito’s bank card while she was a missing person. The search continues.