The horrific murder of Gabby Petito became infamous overnight. One cannot fathom the sorrow and heartbreak this young woman’s family and friends are going through.
Yet Petito’s case is just one example of a larger problem. Why is it that in so many intimate relationships, outside observers get caught up in the perfection it may seem to be?
There are many instances where two people can appear to get along just fine. But behind closed doors, we may never see the various forms of cruelty or methods of control enacted by abusive partners.
In Petito’s case, there were barely any signs of domestic violence or abuse; at least, not on social media. Many Instagram and YouTube viewers saw her as a go-getter, happy with both herself and with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. But despite the idyllic images of their relationship on social media, there were warning signs before Petito went missing.
Originally from Blue Point, New York, Petito attended Bayport-Blue Point High School on Long Island, where she met Brian Laundrie before the two started dating in 2019. In July of 2020, Petito and Laundrie got engaged. On July 2, 2021, after working as a pharmacy technician to raise funds, Petito was finally able to pursue her love for travel and set out on her cross-country road trip in a van with Laundrie.
They left Long Island and began what was supposed to be a four-month road trip. From what we can tell of her travel blogs, she was living her nomadic dream. But, that did not turn out to be the case.
On Aug. 12, 2021, police officers in Moab, Utah, were dispatched in response to a domestic disturbance between Petito and Laundrie after a 911 caller reported seeing Laundrie hit Petito. The couple was pulled over in their van. In the body camera footage taken from the police officer questioning Petito, she admitted she and Laundrie had been fighting that morning.
“Yeah, I don’t know, it’s just some days I have really bad OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder], 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,” Petito said.
Petito makes excuses for Laundrie’s aggressive behavior, even relocating the blame onto herself. When asked if Laundrie hurt her, she doesn’t give a definitive answer, as if she is afraid to speak. Laundrie makes no attempt to remove Petito from the situation as an aggressor and seems perfectly content to let her take the blame as he casually shows police where she scratched him.
Petito can be seen crying, obviously in great distress. In contrast, Laundrie appears chillingly calm, smiling self-assuredly and claiming he was only defending himself after Petito attacked him. Officers ultimately failed to arrest Laundrie, and the official police report actually lists Petito as the suspect, despite the 911 call and other witness statements saying otherwise.
On Aug. 19, 2021, Petito uploaded her final video to YouTube, and her final Instagram post was made on August 25.
On Sept. 1, 2021, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida without Petito. She was reported missing 10 days after his return. Laundrie vanished shortly afterward and has still not been located.
Unfortunately, on Sept. 19, 2021, Gabby Petito was found dead in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. Her death was ruled a homicide. Laundrie has been named the only person of interest in her disappearance, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest for a fraudulent charge on a stolen debit card following Petito’s death.
Signs of domestic violence aren’t always immediately apparent, and people like Brian Laundrie can be incredibly charismatic when others are present or a camera is rolling. It can be hard to fathom how someone can treat the person they are supposed to love and care for with such disrespect and callousness.
No matter how small, any act of abuse is not only harmful in itself but can be a sign of worse things to come.
A park ranger who spoke to Petito privately reportedly urged her to distance herself from her fiance, calling their relationship “toxic.” If more responding officers were so perceptive, or if we were all more aware of the signs of domestic violence, maybe we would still know Gabby Petito as the outgoing, vibrant woman she was, and not the victim of an unthinkable crime.