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Just one month before 22-year-old Gabby Petito disappeared, she had a heated, physical argument with boyfriend Brian Laundrie as tension “had been building” between the two for days, according to a new police report.
The report sheds new light on the dynamic between the couple in the days before Petito disappeared while on a cross-country adventure. She was officially reported missing by her mother on Sept. 11 after her mom hadn’t heard from her daughter in nearly two weeks. Laundrie—who has now been named a person of interest in her disappearance—returned to the North, Port Florida home the couple share without her 10 days earlier, authorities have said.
According to the new report, obtained by Oxygen.com, Moab Police were called to the scene of a “domestic problem” around 4:45 p.m. on Aug. 12 after a concerned witness had spotted the pair “arguing over a phone” near the Moonflower Community Cooperative and called 911.
By the time police arrived at the scene, the couple had left in a white Ford Transit van they had refashioned into a camper, but authorities spotted the vehicle near the Arches National Park in Utah and pulled the van over.
After a somewhat erratic stop, during which officer Daniel Robbins said he observed the van cross a double yellow lane, swerve and “hit the curb” before coming to a stop, Robbins said he approached the van and found Laundrie in the driver’s seat and Petito, who was “crying uncontrollably” in the passenger seat.
Laundrie and Petito told the officer that they both struggled with an unidentified health issue that neither was taking medication for, and that, combined with “little arguments she had Brian had been having throughout the day,” had pushed them to a boiling point near the cooperative.
“The male tried to create distance by telling Gabbie to go take a walk to calm down, she didn’t want to be separated from the male, and began slapping him,” fellow officer Eric Pratt wrote in account of the incident.
Laundrie allegedly “grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van,” the report states.
Laundrie got into the van and tried to lock her out, but wasn’t able to lock the driver’s side door and “she opened that and forced her way over him and into the vehicle before it drove off,” Pratt wrote.
Laundrie told Robbins that Petito had “gone into a manic state” during the argument because she thought he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride and had tried to strike him, but when he pushed her away it threw her off balance and she scratched his face causing some “minor visible scratches.”
He told officers that the pair had been traveling together for four to five months and that the significant time together had caused “an emotional strain between them,” according to the report.
Laundrie said the “issues between the two had been building over the last few days,” according to the report.
He told officers that he had been driving the van erratically before the stop because he “thought Gabrielle had grabbed the wheel and pulled it.” The officer observed a few light scratches on his arm.
Officers spoke with both Laundrie and Petito—who was still visibly upset—about the incident separately.
“At no point in my investigation did Gabrielle stop crying, breathing heavily, or compose a sentence without needing to wipe away tears, wipe her nose, or rub her knees with her hands,” Robbins wrote.
Throughout their investigation, police said no one had reported that Laundrie had hit Petito and that “both desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.”
The police officers concluded that the incident was more of a “mental/emotional health ‘break’” and arranged for Laundrie to get a hotel room for the night so that they could “reset their mental states without interference from one another.”
No formal charges were filed against Laundrie or Petito, who remained behind with the couple’s van.
Weeks later, Petito disappeared. Her mother, Nicole Schmidt, told Fox News that she last spoke with her daughter on Aug. 25, when the couple were camping in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
She received a final text message from her daughter days later on Aug. 30 that read simply “No service in Yosemite,” but Schmidt doesn’t believe Petito sent the message after learning from police that Laundrie had returned to Florida without Petito by Sept. 1, according to The New York Post.
“The van was in Florida on the 1st [of September]. I think I can do the math,” Schmidt told the outlet.
Law enforcement officers in Florida there have been trying to speak with Laundrie about what he might know about the disappearance or where he last saw his missing girlfriend, but so far, attempts have been unsuccessful.
"We would like to talk to him," North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor told Oxygen.com on Tuesday. "The fact he was the last person seen with her makes him someone we would be interested in talking to.”
In a press conference Wednesday, Taylor said police and the FBI had processed the couple’s van after recovering it from the home Laundrie and Petito had shared with his parents.
“There was some material in there that we will be going through,” he said, without elaborating.
Taylor said authorities are still hopeful Laundrie will choose to cooperate.
“We don’t know what Brian knows. I mean that’s the bottom line and we’re hopeful to talk to him,” he said. “He needs to talk to us. We need to know exactly where he was, where she was, their last locations.”
Petito has been described by police as a white female, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, and several distinctive tattoos including one on her forearm that reads, “Let it be.”
Investigators are directing anyone with information in the case to call: 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324).
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