What Is Going on With the Missing #VanLife Woman?

The one in all the articles and TikToks

Octavio Jones/Getty Images

On July 2, a young influencer couple left Long Island in a converted cargo van for a road trip to Oregon. The woman, 22-year-old travel blogger Gabby Petito, documented their time in an eight-minute video called “VAN LIFE | Beginning Our Van Life Journey.” In the Aug. 19 footage, the man, 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, drives the van, eats various foods, and seems generally in love. Three weeks later, Petito had been reported missing; Laundrie had returned to the pair’s Florida home alone, retained a lawyer, and refused to speak with investigators.

This saga, which has been extensively documented through its subjects’ social media, has become an online obsession, particularly in the bowels of True Crime TikTok. App denizens have convened around hashtags like #gabbypetito and #findgabby to investigate all public information and share clues or contacts. Websites have aggregated details of the case; this blog is one of those.

Petito and Laundrie grew up together in the Suffolk County town of Bayport, New York. They were high school sweethearts who “rekindled” their relationship around March 2019, according to Petito’s mother. Later that year, the pair moved to North Port, Florida, where they lived with Laundrie’s parents. Last summer, they got engaged. The goal of their trip was to drive west in Petito’s white 2012 Ford van, hit several national parks, and wind up in the Pacific Northwest by Halloween, while cataloguing the route on Instagram, YouTube, and a personal website, Nomadic Statik. As is fairly common among the minimalist travel crowd, they tagged their Instagram posts #vanlife.

Based on location tags, the pair charted a course through Monument Rocks in Kansas, Colorado Springs and Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, and several parks across Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Mystic Hot Springs, Canyonlands, and Arches. In pictures from their visits, Petito and Laundrie both seem pretty happy. But body cam footage from a traffic stop in Moab, Utah, shows they fought at least once with some severity.

An officer pulled them over on Aug. 12, after seeing the van “speeding and hitting a curb” near Arches National Park, according to the Orlando Sentinel. A witness had called 9-1-1 after seeing them in an “altercation.” In the footage, Petito is visibly sobbing. She told the cop that they had been fighting that morning over personal issues. Laundrie later explained he had entered the van with dirty feet, resulting in a physical clash in which Petito scratched his face. She said she had “really bad OCD,” and had been straightening up. “I was apologizing to him saying that I’m so mean because sometimes I have OCD and get frustrated,” Petito said. Her fiancé declined to press a domestic violence charge; instead, the officer separated them for the evening. Petito slept in the van; Laundrie got a motel room.

Petito’s parents told law enforcement they had last heard from their daughter during a hike at the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Contact from Gabby was sporadic, the Petitos told police, but that wasn’t unusual for the 22-year-old who would regularly visit remote, serviceless locations. (The couple’s as yet empty website reads: “OUT OF THE WIFI, BE HERE SOON!”).

On Aug. 30, the Petitos received a text from their daughters’ phone that read: “No service in Yosemite.” But just two days later, on Sept. 1, Laudrie returned to Florida in the van and without their daughter. The family’s attorney has told law enforcement that they no longer believe Gabby sent the text message, but did not explain further. The Petitos filed a missing person’s’ report two weeks later on Sept. 11.

In the six days since, North Port police have opened a missing persons investigation, not a murder probe, into Gabby’s disappearance; FBI have gotten involved in the search. On Tuesday, Petito’s stepfather flew to Jackson Hole to look for her; Laundrie’s family released a statement calling the situation “extremely difficult,” but declined to comment further. The 23-year-old has not yet spoken about the disappearance. “As of now,” the police department wrote in a statement, “Brian has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators or has provided any helpful details.”

On Wednesday, authorities named Laundrie a “person of interest;” Petito’s parents claimed Laundrie had abandoned their daughter “in the wilderness with grizzly bears and wolves while he sits in the comfort of his home.” On Thursday, Petito’s parents wrote a letter to their potential in-laws asking for their cooperation, if they “have any decency left.” A GoFundMe for the Petitos’ search has raised nearly $54,000.

Damn. What the hell is going on here, with all this???