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Part Of How Gabby Petito’s Family Is Grieving Her Loss Is Reaching Out To Help Others Avoid A Similar Fate

“It’s about the changes we can make. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future,” Gabby Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said of the vision behind The Gabby Petito Foundation.

By Jill Sederstrom
Gabby Petito's Dad Expects No Closure From Notebook

"The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media" will air on Oxygen on Monday, January 24 at 9/8c. It's also available to stream on Peacock now. 

Gabby Petito’s parents knows they will never be able to bring the 22-year-old back, but they are focused today on helping others prevent similar tragedies through the creation of a new foundation in their daughter’s honor.

“It’s about the changes we can make,” Petito’s mom Nichole Schmidt, said in an interview with local news outlet WFLA about the new effort. “We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.”

Schmidt, Petito’s father, Joe Petito, and stepmother Tara Petito have joined together to create The Gabby Petito Foundation, a nonprofit created to “address the needs of organizations that support locating missing persons and to provide aid to organizations that assist victims of domestic violence situations,” according to the foundation’s website.

“I think starting the foundation is a way of us grieving and then getting through this,” Schmidt said. “Some mornings I wake up and want to save the world and I know I can’t do that, but I’ll die trying, and that’s Gabby’s legacy.”

The Petito family has received an outpouring of support from people around the world in the months since Gabby first disappeared while on a cross-country trek with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie.

Investigators would later discover her body in the Grand Teton National Park, where she had been traveling with Laundrie as part of the young couple’s quest to visit the country's national parks and document their journey on social media, according to the FBI.

The medical examiner has said Petito was strangled to death.

The remains of Laundrie, who had been a person of interest in the disappearance, were discovered last month in a nature preserve in Florida. Laundrie disappeared from his parents’ Florida home in September as the media attention surrounding Petito’s case began to grow.

Schmidt said the immense support the family received in the aftermath of the tragedy is what prompted them, in part, to start a foundation to help others.

“The love and support has been the driving force behind us doing this foundation,” she said. “It’s like without the love and support, I don’t know if we’d have the strength to keep going. Everybody has just been amazing. I read all the comments. I get letters in the mail. It’s just 100 percent love, love, love and we need that.”

Joe Petito said the family now believes they can achieve justice for Gabby by lowering the rates of domestic violence. They are still investigating just how the foundation can be used to help achieve that aim, but Joe said they’ve already realized that the country is lacking resources for victims of domestic violence, like counselors, financial planners, attorneys and others who could help get victims out of dangerous situations.

“What we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to fill the gaps and voids with what’s going on, where we see fit,” he told the news outlet. “We’re talking with police, we’re talking with rescue teams, with professionals, with therapists, that know the ins and outs of what’s needed and where it's best needed.”

Schmidt said the foundation is also hoping to prevent domestic violence by increasing prevention efforts in the nation’s schools.

“We have to start while they’re young, and it’s not in schools, unfortunately, and it needs to be,” she said.

Gabby’s parents also discussed the need for a nationwide alert system for missing individuals between the ages of 18 and 64, much like the systems already in place through the Amber Alert for children and Silver Alert for senior citizens.

“What about these people that are in between?” Schmidt said. “If a family members knows they are missing there’s got to be some kind of alert system so people start looking immediately.”

Joe also encouraged people to speak more openly about domestic violence and “have the tough conversations” necessary to bring about change.

“It’s not the dirty little secret,” he said. “It’s an issue that plagues, you know, every country, every gender. There’s no color that’s not affected by it, there’s no economic level that’s not affected by it, there’s no gender that’s not affected by it. It’s everyone.”

Schmidt said the foundation plans to allow people to share their own stories about domestic violence anonymously through the foundation’s website.

“We just think sharing your story makes people realize they are not alone and it helps others,” she said.

While Petito’s parents say their daughter’s story had a tragic end, they are hoping her spirit and loving nature will inspire others to live their best lives.

“Remember her as the free spirit you see in her fun YouTube video, that was who she was and who she loved to be,” Schmidt said. “I think of her now as an angel who is touching the whole world and helping so many people.”

"The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media" will air on Oxygen on Monday, January 24 at 9/8c. It's also available to stream on Peacock now.