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As the search for Brian Laundrie continues, Gabby Petito’s mom says she had trusted Laundrie—who she described as “very polite and quiet”—to keep her daughter safe on their cross-country journey.
“I thought he would take care of her,” Nichole Schmidt told “60 Minutes Australia.”
Petito and Laundrie embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime trip across America to visit the nation’s national parks in early July but the idyllic trip, often captured in breathtaking photos and images the couple posted online, took a dark turn at the end of August when Petito disappeared. Her body was discovered in the Grand Teton National Park on Sept. 19. The medical examiner has determined the 22-year-old was strangled to death.
Laundrie drew suspicion when he returned home to Florida—without his girlfriend—in her van on Sept. 1 and soon disappeared himself as the investigation into Petito’s disappearance began to gain momentum.
Schmidt said although she had concerns about the couple’s trip, she was never worried about Laundrie.
“I worried. I told her to be careful, be safe, you know, make sure that—to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t trust everybody,” Nichole said of the couple’s cross-country trek. “But I felt safe because she was with Brian and I felt that she would be OK.”
Schmidt told the news outlet that Laundrie had “just seemed like a nice guy” who read books to her youngest child at night before bed and used to draw her children pictures.
“Every time he would come over, he was polite,” her stepdad, Jim Schmidt, agreed. “He talked with our other children as well, you know, they got to know him and they liked him.”
Jim now says he wants “vengeance and justice” and believes Laundrie—who has been named a person of interest in the disappearance—should spend his life behind bars if he’s found guilty in her death.
“Gabby was 22-years-old. Her life was stolen from her. She was stolen. She was taken from us,” he said.
While Nichole said she was once “in awe” of the adventure Petito and Laundrie were having, the family is now learning more details about trouble the couple had hidden from their loved ones.
Just weeks before Petito disappeared, the couple was stopped on Aug. 12 by Moab Police officers, after a witness called 911 to report seeing Laundrie slap Petito.
“Outside looking in, she did look happy but as we look more and more into this, it might not have been as great as people online perceived,” her dad, Joe Petito, told “60 Minutes Australia.”
After being stopped by police, Petito told officers that she had been the one to slap Laundrie first and, believing that she was the primary aggressor. officers opted to separate the couple for the night without filing any charges, according to a police report obtained by Oxygen.com.
The police department later released body camera footage of the incident—which Nichole admitted is difficult for her to watch.
“I just wanted to jump through the screen and rescue her,” she said. “It makes me sad.”
Nichole kept in regular contact with her daughter throughout the trip, but started to worry when communication stopped at the end of August. After trying unsuccessfully to get in contact with Laundrie and his family, she filed a missing person’s report for her daughter on Sept. 11.
Later that night, she said she learned Brian had returned to Florida without her daughter more than a week earlier.
“I almost fell on the ground because I was just like ‘Where’s Gabby?’” she recalled. “I just went into shock. I knew something was wrong.”
Laundrie quickly hired an attorney and refused to speak with investigators before he disappeared himself days later, after allegedly telling his family he was going hiking in Sarasota County’s Carlton Reserve. But for weeks, investigators have found no sign of the missing 23-year-old, who is also wanted by the FBI on an arrest warrant for unauthorized use of a debit card.
Petito’s family is now mourning for the daughter they had loved so much.
“The last thing I said to her, my very last sentence was ‘I love you’ and her last sentence to me was ‘I love you too,’” her dad said.
Nichole said she is hoping that her daughter was “in a place that she wanted to be” and was “looking at the beautiful mountains” in her final moments.
“I hope that she didn’t suffer and that she wasn’t in any pain,” she said.
To honor Petito and increase awareness about domestic violence, the family has The Gabby Petito Foundation. The organization’s first fundraiser on Sunday drew around 200 people in just the first hour, Fox News reports.
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