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The Moment Gabby Petito’s Mom Knew She Was Gone
For more than a week, investigators and internet detectives tried to figure out what happened to 22-year-old Gabby Petito before her body was found in Grand Teton National Park on Sept. 19.
Gabby Petito’s mom knows the exact moment she realized her 22-year-old daughter was gone.
It was the same day that Nichole Schmidt reported Petito missing after being unable to reach her daughter or daughter’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, for days.
At first, Nichole said in Peacock’s new documentary “The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies And Social Media,” available to stream Friday, that she believed the couple may have gotten hurt during their cross-country trek to visit the nation’s National Parks or gotten lost on one of the many trails they had hiked together.
“The thoughts that were going through my head is something really bad had happened to her,” Nichole said.
According to Nichole, the last text messages she got from Gabby’s phone were on Aug. 30, but the messages had been unsettling.
In one, Gabby seemingly referred to her grandfather by his first name of “Stan” and in another she claimed to be in Yosemite with no cellphone service, although Gabby had told her mother and stepfather, Jim Schmidt, earlier that the couple was planning to go to Yellowstone National Park, not Yosemite.
“We realized that’s not right,” Jim said in “The Murder of Gabby Petito.” “She wasn’t planning to head to Yosemite, they were planning to go to Yellowstone in Wyoming. One’s slightly north of where they were the other one is hundreds of miles west. It didn’t make sense.”
Nichole said she decided to reach out to Laundrie’s parents after later messages to her daughter went unanswered, but was surprised when she never got a reply.
“I did text Brian’s mother. I said ‘Have you heard from the kids?’ I didn’t say, ‘Have you heard from Gabby?’ I was concerned for both of them,” she recalled in the documentary. “I got nothing, no response.”
Her fears only grew when Laundrie also failed to return her text messages.
“I mean, I was just like ‘What is going on? Why wouldn’t anybody respond to me? I’m asking have you heard from the kids and I’m getting nothing,’” she said.
Frustrated and concerned, Nichole walked into the Suffolk County Police Department and reported her daughter missing on Sept. 11.
Within hours, Gabby’s family learned that Laundrie had returned to Florida 10 days earlier in the couple’s van, without her.
That was the moment that Nichole said she knew her bubbly, artistic and creative daughter was no longer alive.
“I knew the night the detective came to my door to tell me the van was in Florida. I knew. I knew she was gone that night,” she said through tears. “When I knew the van was in Florida, I knew that my daughter was gone. I didn’t know how, but I just knew. I didn’t tell anyone else that, because I had to do what I had to do.”
In the days followed, Nichole, Jim, Gabby’s father Joe Petito and stepmom Tara Petito made public pleas to Laundrie and his family to tell them where Gabby was, but those pleas were once again met with silence.
“On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family,” family attorney Steven P. Bertolino said in a statement to Oxygen.com at the time. “On the advice of counsel, the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”
The case captivated the nation and internet sleuths pored over videos, photos and accounts from witnesses who claimed to have seen Laundrie in Wyoming—where the couple had been camping—around the time Gabby disappeared.
Then, just over a week after Gabby was reported missing, investigators discovered her body in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, according to the FBI.
The coroner would later determine that Petito’s cause of death was manual strangulation or throttling, according to the documentary.
While Laundrie was named a person of interest in her disappearance, he himself vanished several days before her body was discovered.
Authorities found his body in Florida’s Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, which connects to the Carlton Reserve, on Oct.20 after a month of searching for the 23-year-old.
The family’s attorney has said Laundrie died from a gunshot wound to the head.
No charges were ever filed in connection with Gabby’s death. Nichole said she still finds her daughter’s murder “unbelievable.”
“I don’t understand it,” she said in the Peacock special. “It doesn’t make sense.”
"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.