On Friday, after a four-month investigation, authorities announced they will close the case into the murder of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old whose September disappearance during a cross-country road trip and the subsequent discovery of her body captured national media attention.
In a statement, the Denver FBI said her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, had admitted to killing her. “Yesterday, the family of Gabrielle Petito met with the FBI at the Tampa Field Office as the investigation will be closed in the near future,” the statement said, then quoted FBI Denver Division Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. “The investigation did not identify any other individuals other than Brian Laundrie directly involved in the tragic death of Gabby Petito,” Schneider said.
The FBI statement also announced that before taking his own life with a gunshot to the head, Laundrie had confessed in writing to killing Petito. Laundrie’s remains were discovered in November in a nature preserve near his parents’ Florida home, along with a notebook and other belongings. “A review of the notebook revealed written statements by Mr. Laundrie claiming responsibility for Ms. Petito’s death,” the statement said.
Petito’s case captured the fervent energies of true crime enthusiasts on social media, and agent Schneider thanked the public for their attention to the case and for providing tips to law enforcement. “The public’s role in helping us in this endeavor was invaluable as the investigation was covered in the media around the world.” he said. “On behalf of the FBI, I want to express my deepest appreciation to the public for the thousands of tips that were provided during the investigation, and to our local, state and federal law enforcement partners for their work throughout the investigation.” A spokesperson for the Denver FBI offered no further comment on the announcement.
In July 2021, Petito and Laundrie departed Petito’s childhood hometown in Long Island for what was supposed to be a four-month road trip through national parks. They’d converted a Ford Transit van as living quarters and began documenting their #vanlife adventure on social media.
In mid-August, police in Moab, Utah, near Arches National Park stopped Petito and Laundrie after a witness reported them fighting outside a store. It would prove to be a foretelling encounter. Officers separated them for a night, but no charges were filed. During the stop, Petito was captured on an officer’s body camera, sobbing as she struggled to speak. Last week, Moab Police released a 99-page independent review of the incident that says police made mistakes handling the altercation and recommends training officer in domestic violence response, among other steps.
On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned alone to his parents’ home in Florida and refused to say where she was. On Sept. 11, Petito’s family reported her missing and the internet exploded with news of the budding influencer’s disappearance. Within a week, Laundrie had disappeared as well, sparking rumors that his parents had helped him escape and a nationwide manhunt for the last person to see Petito.
On Sept. 18, authorities found Petito’s remains near a campground in a national forest in Wyoming. Her death was ruled a homicide and the FBI soon put out a warrant for Laundrie’s arrest. He’d been illegally using Petito’s bank card. Throngs of news crews and protesters gathered outside the Laundrie’s North Port, Florida, home daily for weeks on end. Laundrie’s parents stayed mum, although they said through their lawyer they’d been cooperating with law enforcement. His sister went on Good Morning America the first week of October and called for him to turn himself in.
Laundrie’s remains were finally discovered on Oct. 20, in an area of the T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve that authorities had searched before but had been underwater due to flooding. On Nov. 23 the FBI announced he’d died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The FBI’s announcement that Laundrie confessed to killing Petito closes the book on a case that prompted discussions of domestic violence and its signs, highlighted the power (for good and ill) of social media, and sparked outrage that the same level of national attention isn’t afforded to all missing people, especially Black people, indigenous people, and people of color. In a press conference after Petito’s remains were discovered, her family asked the public to help find more missing persons. “Social media has been amazing and very influential, and to be honest it should continue for other people, too,” Petito’s father, Joe, said. “This same type of heightened awareness should be continued for everyone.”