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Just weeks before Gabby Petito was last seen alive, a witness who observed her fighting with boyfriend Brian Laundrie said “something seemed off” between the couple.
The witness, identified only as Chris, described seeing the pair arguing outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative in Moab, Utah around 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 12.
“They were talking aggressively @ each other & something definitely seemed off,” he wrote in a witness statement provided to Moab police and obtained by Oxygen.com. “At one point, they were sort of fighting over a phone—I think the male took the female’s phone. It appeared that he didn’t want her in the white van.”
The witness described seeing Laundrie get back into the driver’s seat of the couple’s van as Petito followed behind him.
“At one point she was punching him in the arm and/or face & trying to get into the van,” he wrote. “She eventually climbed in/over him & over to the passenger seat.”
The witness reported hearing Petito say “Why do you have to be so mean?” after she had gotten inside the van, which the couple had converted to a camper for their cross-country trek to visit the country's national parks.
“I wasn’t sure how serious this was—it was hard to tell if they were sort of play fighting, but from my point of view something definitely didn’t seem right,” he said.
After seeing the dispute, Chris said he saw a police officer as he was leaving the store and passed on his contact information. He said he believed another person had called the incident into police.
“It was as if this guy was trying to leave her, and maybe take her phone? Not sure but wanted to help out,” he wrote in his account.
The incident was called into 911 by someone who reported witnessing “the gentleman slapping the girl,” Fox News reports.
“They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off,” the caller told the dispatcher.
The caller’s account was seemingly disputed in the police report, obtained by Oxygen.com, which stated that “no one reported that the male struck the female.”
"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," the police report stated. "He grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van, he tried to lock her out and succeeded except for his driver’s door, she opened that and forced her way over to him and into the vehicle before it drove off."
By the time police arrived at the scene, the couple were gone but authorities spotted the van driving erratically and stopped it near Arches National Park after seeing it hit a curb.
Petito told the officers in body camera footage released by police that it had been a “rough morning.”
She said that Laundrie “really stresses me out” and had tried to lock her out of the van during the argument.
Petito told police she struggled with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder and Laundrie had wanted her to calm down.
Laundrie told officers a similar account.
“I said, ‘Let’s just take a breather and let’s not go anywhere. Let’s just calm down for a minute,’” he said in the footage.
Officers later concluded the incident had been more of a “mental/emotional health ‘break’”, according to the report, and never filed charges against either.
They did, however, separate the pair for the night and offer Petito a warning about the relationship.
“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” Melissa Hulls, the visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park, told The Deseret News
Hull reportedly had described the relationship to Petito as “toxic.”
Petito disappeared a few weeks later.
Her body was discovered Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, according to a statement from the FBI.
After an autopsy was completed on Tuesday, the Teton County Coroner’s Office determined the Petito's death was a homicide, though authorities haven't released further information about the manner in which she died.
Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the Petito's disappearance, but refused to speak with investigators before disappearing himself last week.
“The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms. Petito’s death is held accountable for their actions,” FBI Denver Special Agent In Charge Michael Schneider said. “Mr. Brian Laundrie has been named a person of interest. Anyone with information concerning Mr. Laundrie’s role in this matter or his current whereabouts should contact the FBI.”
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