True Crime TikTok Boosts Missing Van-Life Woman Gabrielle Petito

UPDATE (9/18): Police and the FBI are now looking for Laundrie as well as Petito, according to a statement from the North Port Police Department. On Friday evening, Laundrie’s family summoned authorities to the house Laundrie and Petito shared with Laundrie’s parents before embarking on their road trip, saying they wanted to talk about the disappearance of their son. Laundrie’s family claimed that they haven’t seen him since Tuesday.

“For six days, the North Port Police Department and the F.B.I. have been pleading with the family to contact investigators regarding Brian’s fiancée, Gabby Petito,” The statement was in part. “Friday is the first time they have spoken with investigators in detail.” Officials also emphasized that Laundrie is a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance but not wanted for a crime. “We are not currently working a crime investigation. We are now working a multiple missing [persons investigation],” The statement stated that.

A lawyer for Petito’s family released a statement, as well, saying, “All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing.”

The disappearance of Gabrielle Petito, the 22-year-old who was last heard from while road-tripping cross-country in a van with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, has captured the energies of the online true crime community.

TikTok has seen hashtags such as #findgabby or #gabbypetito receive tens to millions of views. Users posted updates on the disappearances and shared missing persons posters, along with descriptors of the contact info. Many users encouraged their followers to spread word about the disappearance and share the missing persons posters with descriptors and contact information. Armchair detectives have raised the idea of a potential link between Petito’s disappearance and a recent unsolved double homicide in an area of Utah that Petito and Laundrie visited. (Investigators have said they haven’t ruled out anything in the search for Petito, but gave no indication that they believe there is a connection.) Other users have posted their own analyses of recent Instagram photos of the couple, looking for clues in the couple’s body language and what they were wearing, or dissecting captions, tags, and locations settings to theorize whether Petito was the one who posted the most recent photos from her account.

Meanwhile, Petito’s family continues their desperate search. Since Saturday, when they reported her missing, details have emerged of police interactions with the couple and Petito’s last communications, providing fodder for speculation — but no answers. Laundrie, who arrived home in Florida around September 1st, got a lawyer and has stayed silent so far, although authorities said on Wednesday he was a person of interest.

Their van lifestyle was to take them on an adventure. People are moving from small living spaces to converted cargo vans, and taking to the open road. Petito (22 years old) and Laundrie (23 year-old) set off from New York on July 2, for a four month-long road trip through National Parks. They had equipped a Ford Transit van with a bed and a table, and also brought along a hammock and tent.

They began documenting their trip on Instagram with the hashtag #vanlife and on YouTube, where a single eight-minute video called “Beginning Our Van Life Journey” shows them posing near the Golden Gate Bridge and relaxing at a Utah campsite. They posted photos on Instagram claiming that they traveled through Kansas and Colorado.

A police report states that the two had fought in the weeks prior to Petito being reported missing. On August 12th in Moab, Utah, a person called the police after witnessing “some sort of altercation” between Petito and Laundrie outside a shop, according to a police report. Officers pulled them over in the van, and decided the incident had been more of a “mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault.” Laundrie and Petito both told officers Petito suffers from “severe anxiety.” According to statement they made to officers, they had argued, and Laundrie had told Petito to take a walk and calm down. She refused to be separated and had slapped him. He “grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van.” Laundrie had tried to lock her out of the van but she entered through the driver’s side door and climbed over him as he drove away.

Laundrie told one officer that they’d been traveling for months together and that the “time spent created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments.” During their altercation near the store, he said, Petito had “gone into a manic state,” and was afraid that he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride.

In recently released body camera footage of the stop, Petito also told an officer she suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. “We’ve just been fighting this morning. Some personal issues,” She was in tears. “I don’t know, it’s just some days, I have really bad OCD, and I was just cleaning and straightening up and I was apologizing to him saying that I’m so mean because sometimes I have OCD and get frustrated,” She agreed.

Both told police they were in love and engaged and “desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” the report stated. They were separated by officers, and Laundrie was taken to a hotel. Petito was left in her van.

Petito’s family has said they got an update on her location August 23rd, when she and Laundrie were leaving Utah bound for Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Her stepfather told CNN that Petito communicated regularly with her family. “She would go off the grid…doing her van life stuff, exploring these different areas,” He said. “But she’d always make her way back to someplace where she could get onto a Wi-Fi connection, upload to her Instagram, make phone calls, FaceTime.”

On Aug 30th, the last text message from Petito’s phone to her mother read “No service in Yosemite,” although a lawyer for the family has said she does not believe it was sent by Petito.

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