Is Gabby Petito alive? Experts warn that time is key, but police on 'right track'
The disappearance of Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito, a 22-year-old Long Island woman, has captured the imagination of people across the US. Petito went missing under mysterious circumstances during a cross-country road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who is now a "person of interest" in the case.
Laundrie, who has since returned to his Florida home, has reportedly hired an attorney, refusing to cooperate with investigators. But authorities have said that a month before Petito was officially reported missing, Utah police was called to investigate an incident involving the couple fighting, exchanging blows.
Moab police officers were called to a co-op after a complaint about a “domestic problem” was filed on August 12 when a witness saw the couple get into an argument. Police said they spoke with Petito and Laundrie, who told officers that Laundrie had tried to “create distance” after the argument by telling Petito to go take a walk and calm down.
Police said Petito did not want to be separated from Laundrie and started slapping him, which led to Laundrie grabbing her face, pushing her back, and locking her out of the car. As per the incident report, “no one reported that the male struck the female, both the male and the female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.” However, the police report, based on the couple’s testimonies, says they hit each other during the incident.
Reportedly, Laundrie told the officer that the two had been traveling together for four or five months, and “that time created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments.” Petito was reportedly visibly upset and told the officer she had been struggling with her mental health due to ongoing arguments with Laundrie, as well as suffering from a condition that was redacted by police in the report.
Petito’s mother Nicole Schmidt said she was last heard from on August 25. She said she received texts from her on August 27 and 30. However, the mother of the missing woman said that she couldn't be sure it was Petito “because it was just a text. I did not verbally speak to her.”
No evidence of Laundrie’s involvement in her disappearance has been uncovered, yet. However, many of those following the case in the news have expressed their suspicions about Laundrie who has reportedly not been cooperating with law enforcement authorities. But what do experts say about the case?
On the investigation
“It is a mystery in the truest sense because you have no idea. You can’t go into a situation like this assuming you know how it’s going to play out because, really, you don’t,” said private investigator, John Allman, speaking with WFLA. Allman, who has worked with law firms and law enforcement for more than a decade on cases like this one said it is crucial to understand Petito’s mindset at the alleged time of her disappearance.
“By trying to understand the mindset of an individual when they were last seen by people is critical because it can tell you if they have been looking to escape, to go somewhere by themselves,” Allman said. “The goal is always to just locate the person that has gone missing. you hope that they’re safe, and they just needed to step away for a minute,” Allman said, adding that in a case such as this, investigators typically began at the end and start with the last place a person was seen.
"I think the police are on the right track," John Callicut, the private detective behind Florida-based Walton Investigations, told Insider. "Based on the circumstances, [Laundrie is] certainly someone you would want to talk to." He added, "In my opinion, police always have a little bit more than what they're telling. They're holding information back."
On Laundrie’s involvement
Former federal prosecutor Stephen Crawford said, “Law enforcement gets to a position where they know who did it, but then they’ve got to figure out how to prove it. And, that’s where they are.” He also said since Laundrie is simply a person of interest and has hired an attorney, the young man cannot be compelled to talk. “This is a case that if it turns out, unfortunately, the way it’s looking, it’ll be prosecuted locally wherever they find what they find,” said Crawford.
Private investigator Guillermo Hechevarria who works for Investigation Services Unlimited in Florida told Insider that he believed Laundrie most likely left Petito alive somewhere in the Tetons. He said that Laundrie retaining an attorney suggested to him that police also may want to look within a one-mile radius of Laundrie's parents' home for a body.
Harvey Morse, a private detective with Locators International in Florida, said Laundrie's behavior after returning from the road trip raised "a lot of red flags." He said police will likely try to subpoena Laundrie's cell phone, and search for campgrounds that he and Petito may have visited in the Tetons.
On Petito’s chances of survival
John Van Steenkiste, a private investigator at the Florida-based private investigator Compass Investigations, said the general likelihood of finding a person alive after they've been missing in the wild for two weeks is "minimal." This was also something that Morse, a former police officer and the founder of the Florida Association of Private Investigators, said.
Van Steenkiste said, "If that person was alive when he left but was entrapped, or incarcerated in some manner, in a cave, in a room, in a building, they're going to have not had any food for weeks. Assuming it was hot, that person is going to get dehydrated.” Given these circumstances, experts are not optimistic about about Petito being found alive.