The Murder of Gabby Petito is a 2021 documentary.
6 out of 10 stars. I wish the filmmakers had portrayed this as a domestic violence case rather than a “crime solved by social media”. Social media did more to hurt in this case than to help.
On July 2, 2021 22 year-old Gabby Petito and her fiance, 22 year-old Brian Laundrie, set out on a four-month cross-country trip in her outfitted white Ford van. Gabby had quit her job and was starting a YouTube channel in the hopes of becoming an influencer and getting paid for journaling a travelog on YouTube. Three months later, she was found dead in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, a victim of homicide. Her murder was ruled domestic violence, homicide by manual strangulation/throttling.
Before Gabby and Brian’s trip, Gabby took all of her savings, bought a white Ford van, and remodeled it into a camper. It was her pride and joy. She updated her YouTube channel daily with videos of her and Brian and the places they were visiting. Her last text to her mother on August 30 was odd because she called her grandpa “Stan” rather than Grandpa and she stated she had no cell phone service and was in Yosemite National Park which was hundreds of miles off of their planned itinerary.
On September 11 Gabby’s mother reported her missing. She’d sent several texts and made several calls to Brian’s parents, who ignored them. She was worried. Within hours, the police had discovered that Brian Laundrie had Gabby’s white Ford van in Florida and was at his parents’ house. He’d been there since September 1, two days after that suspicious text. (It’s impossible to travel from Yosemite National Park to Florida in two days, but this is not pointed out in this film). Immediately after Brian returned, his parents took him camping, which was an odd reaction to Brian returning in Gabby’s van without Gabby. He also had her debit card.
When Gabby’s mother learned this, she went on social media and asked for help finding Gabby. Social media took it and ran with it. Conspiracy theories hurt the family more than helping them, but a couple of internet sleuthers tracked their videos and postings down to Grand Teton National Park.
On September 15, the Moab, Utah Police Department released an August 12 911 call of a man and woman reporting Brian repeatedly hitting Gabby in front of the Moab Post Office. She ran from him, he chased her, and he threw her in the van and drove away. The police responded and caught up to Brian and Gabby, pulling them over. The Moab Police Department also released the body cam video from this police stop. In it, Gabby is a mess. She’s clearly scared and has marks on her face and arms from being hit and manhandled. And as one of the people interviewed says, she’s clearly showing signs of a woman who’s been gaslighted by her male partner, the first sign of domestic abuse. In order for domestic abusers to escape prosecution (and to keep their women under control) they first convince them that their reality is “wrong” and not as they perceive it. This is called gaslighting, taken from the 1944 film Gaslight. Gabby tells the police it’s all her fault, that she hit Brian first, that she has OCD and was angry about the van being dirty and they fought. She repeatedly apologizes and takes the blame for the whole thing claiming Brian is innocent (two other signs of gaslighting). The police separate them, talk to them separately for an hour, and then leave Gabby with the van and put Brian up in a hotel to keep them apart and give them time to cool off. But the only person they have grounds to arrest is Gabby because she hasn’t stated that Brian hit her and she’s claimed that she hit Brian (even though no witnesses saw her hit Brian). On this body cam video you can see the inside of the van which is a mess, nothing at all like the YouTube videos Gabby has posted. So her story seems real enough that the police let them go the next morning. In my opinion, the Moab police did what they could, but Gabby was protecting Brian, another sign of domestic abuse.
What I found most disturbing about this body cam video is Gabby’s father’s reaction to it. Gabby showed no signs of having OCD. That’s something she was told by Brian, her dad, and her stepmother. Common sense would make anyone upset if their livelihood (Gabby’s YouTube channel) depended on her keeping that van clean enough to video tape in it. That’s not OCD. It’s also clear that Gabby was Daddy’s little girl. Her father and mother were divorced and remarried to other people and Gabby was trying really hard to be part of her dad’s life. Her need to please her dad spilled over into needing to please Brian, who looked like a younger version of her dad. Daddy’s girls make easy domestic abuse victims because they defer to the men in their lives to make them happy. Their behavior defies common sense because they don’t want to be abandoned again. In fact, they would do almost anything to not be abandoned.
On September 12, Brian’s parents reported him missing. He’d gone to Carlton Reserve which is mostly covered in water and gators. The police mounted a search but couldn’t find Brian. A TikTok viewer posted a video of Brian that was faked so he could gain ratings on his TikTok channel. Other social media fans posted conspiracy theories about Brian’s parents. I would have to agree, his parents’ aided and abetted their son in covering up a crime. They should have reported their son for 1. stealing Gabby’s van, 2. abandoning Gabby in a deadly environment (it gets below freezing at night and he took her only shelter), 3. stealing Gabby’s credit card and using it. Instead, they shielded him from the police and refused to tell anyone anything that would help find Gabby. I suspect he told them he’d killed her.
On September 18, another camper posts footage of Gabby’s camper in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming which was on their itinerary. One day later the police find her body not far from where they were in that video. The FBI reports that Gabby was murdered. Eventually the coroner clarifies that she was murdered by manual strangulation/throttling and was a victim of domestic violence.
On September 22, the FBI file an arrest warrant for Brian Laundrie for bank fraud (for using Gabby’s credit card).
On September 26, Gabby’s parents hold a memorial for her.
From September 12 to October 18, the police and FBI had searched Carlton Reserve for Brian and were unable to find him. On October 19, Carlton Reserve reopens. On October 20, one day later, Brian’s parents conveniently find Brian’s backpack and notebook on one of the trails he frequented. His body is found hours later. The FBI investigation ends because there is no one to arrest for the crime. Brian’s parents are never arrested. Brian’s death is ruled suicide by gunshot.
In retrospect there are so many warning signs in Gabby’s videos. All of her videos show a “perfect life”. Life is never perfect. In quite a few of these videos, Brian does not look like he wants to be filmed. And Gabby is documenting on film their entire lives. Domestic abusers like secrecy and control. Complete control. Once she started videotaping their lives, he lost control and it showed. But social media is superficial. You see one side of a person, the side they want you to see.
I feel for Gabby’s family. I even feel for Brian’s family, but they should be held accountable for withholding crucial information that would have aided in the finding of Gabby’s body. That’s a crime in most states. I think the Moab, Utah police should be commended for actually acting on that 911 call. You’d be surprised how many police officers don’t respond to domestic violence calls at all. And I know that in releasing that 911 call and that body cam video they gave her parents some peace.
6 out of 10 stars for the documentary which portrayed this as social media solving a crime. They didn’t. This was a domestic violence case with a tragic ending. The filmmakers should have explained the signs of domestic abuse that Gabby displayed and why she became a victim as a public service to all the would-be YouTubers who take trips with violent men. They didn’t.