Did police blow it in the Gabby Petito case? FBI confirms her remains were found over the weekend

I think it’s a question that should be asked and I’m genuinely not sure what the answer is. Gabby Petito is the young woman who disappeared in Wyoming last month. Petito and her fiance Brian Laundrie were traveling cross country in a white van. Last month in Moab, Utah, a 911 caller reported he’d seen Laundrie slapping and hitting Petito.

Police responded and pulled the van over. Laundrie was driving and the van was speeding away from the pursuing police then ran over a curb and stopped. Laundrie apologized for speeding but claimed Petito had grabbed the wheel, forcing him to swerve over the curb. She denied that.

Laundrie did have some scratches on his face which he claimed resulted from Petito hitting him with her phone. That may or may not have been true (she claimed she hit his arm pnce when the police lights went on). However, what’s most striking about the body cam video is how upset Petito is. She’s in tears from the moment police arrive. She says she’s struggling with OCD and that Laundrie is stressing her out and doesn’t believe in her ability to start a new blog about their travels.

When Laundrie was asked to tell his story again he claimed he’d locked the van and suggested they each take a walk in opposite directions to calm down. That’s when he claimed Petito attacked him and he pushed her back and shouted at her. He never admitted to slapping or hitting her as the 911 caller claimed. “I’m fine and I love Gabby. I hope she doesn’t have too many complaints about me,” Laundrie said.

It’s not clear if the police ever got the 911 report that it was Laundrie hitting Petito but one officer mentions that a witness (a different one) said he never saw Laundrie hit Petito only him trying to push her away which basically matched his story. It seems police came to the conclusion that, even though Laundrie was bigger, Petito was the aggressor in the incident which means if charges are brought they would need to be arresting her and not him. When this was explained to Laundrie he replied, “Can I go to jail?” One of the male officers replied, “You did nothing wrong.”

Nevertheless, one of the male officers talked with Petito earlier in the bodycam video about his ex-wife and suggests that maybe in light of what has happened she should reevaluate her relationship. “I’m not telling you what to do with your life but if you know you have anxiety…look at the situations you can get in,” he said, indicating all of the police cars that have surrounded them.

There was one female park ranger on the scene who spent some time talking to Petito while the male officers were talking to Laundrie. Body cam video from that discussion hasn’t been released yet but Ranger Melissa Hulls told Deseret News she was haunted by the interaction:

“I can still hear her voice,” Hulls said in an exclusive interview with the Deseret News. “She wasn’t just a face on the milk carton, she was real to me.”

Hulls pictures the sobbing 22-year-old sitting in the back of the cruiser. She knows her mannerisms, just from the roughly hour-and-a half interaction.

“I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been,” Hulls recalls, warning Petito that her and Laundrie’s relationship had the markings of a “toxic” one.

“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” she said.

Ultimately the police decided not to arrest Petito, deeming the incident more of a mental health crisis than one of domestic abuse. Petito and Laundrie were separated and a room was rented for her at a local motel. However, Fox News reports, “The motel owner told Fox News last week that he could confirm a room had been reserved but did not know whether Laundrie actually spent the night there.” So police were trying to do her a favor by not putting her in jail for domestic abuse but the result appears to have been a disaster. Maybe if they’d arrested her she’d still be alive.

All of that happened on August 12. Petito and Laundrie apparently continued on to Wyoming where she called her family for the last time from Grand Teton National Park on August 25. A few days later Laundrie was allegedly seen hitch-hiking in the area. Then on Aug. 30, Petito’s mother got a text, allegedly from Gabby, saying something about Yosemite National Park in California. But there’s no sign she ever made it there.

Brian Laundrie arrived at his parent’s home in Florida in Petito’s van on September 1st. Petito was not with him. Ten days later her family, who live in New York, filed a missing person’s report. By this point, Laundrie’s family had hired a lawyer and refused to cooperate with investigators. On September 17, police went to his parent’s home where Brian was staying. Their attorney claimed he’d gone hiking in a nature preserve days earlier and hadn’t returned. They claimed they had no idea where he was. Brian Laundrie is still missing in Florida and police are executing a manhunt for him.

Over the weekend, law enforcement announced they had discovered a body in Grand Teton Park which matched the description of Gabby Petito.

Just a few minutes ago, the FBI confirmed it was the body of Petito and that this case is a homicide though the cause of death is still pending (2nd tweet below):

John Walsh appeared on Good Morning America today and really blamed the authorities first, suggesting that Petito was terrified of Laundrie in that bodycam video. Second, he blamed the Laundrie family and their attorney for, he said, aiding their son to escape justice and potentially destroy evidence.

Some authorities are already suggesting that Laundrie may have harmed himself. If so, that should make him a lot easier to find. I’ll update this story if there are any more developments later today.