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Killer’s Family Allegedly Knew Gabby Petito Was Dead Weeks Before Discovery

The fiance and killer of the domestic violence murder victim Gabby Petito desperately called his parents and told them that she was “gone” weeks before she was discovered dead – yet they later shared messages expressing hope that search efforts for her would end in success, her family has alleged.

Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, made the claim in a lawsuit that they are pursuing against Brian Laundrie’s family and their attorney in the latest chapter to a case that has generated international news headlines.

The Petitos, who amended the lawsuit with the new allegations on 30 November, have accused Laundrie’s parents as well as their lawyer of intentionally withholding information about their daughter’s murder, inflicting on them pain and emotional distress.

The Petitos allege that Christopher and Roberta Laundrie received “a frantic telephone call” from their son on 29 August 2021 in which he said his betrothed Gabby was “gone” and that he “needed a lawyer”.

That same day, the Petitos allege, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie spoke with a lawyer, Steven Bertolino. The Laundries, from Florida, are accused of telling Bertolino that Petito was “gone” and their son needed an attorney.

Four days later, on 2 September 2021, the Laundries had paid Bertolino to retain his services, and he in turn entered into a fee agreement with a criminal defense law firm in Wyoming, the state where Petito would later be found dead.

Petito’s mother reported her missing on 11 September 2021, setting off a search effort around Wyoming’s Grand Teton national park, where she had planned to travel with Laundrie. Three days after she was reported missing, Bertolino issued a statement on behalf of the Laundries reading: “It is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.”

Meanwhile, the day after his call to his parents, Laundrie sent a text message from Petito’s phone to her mother saying there was no cell service where they were, the amended lawsuit notes. Nichole Schmidt now interprets that text as an attempt to “deceive [her] into believing that Gabrielle Petito was still alive”.

Ultimately, Petito’s body was found at the national park on 19 September 2021. A coroner later ruled that she had been strangled.

Laundrie, for his part, went back home to Florida and died by suicide. In writings found near his remains, Laundrie claimed responsibility for Petito’s killing.

The Petitos’ amended lawsuit sharply criticized the 14 September 2021 statement that Bertolino released to the public.

“For the Laundries and Steven Bertolino to express their ‘hope’ that Gabrielle Petito was located and reunited with her family, at a time when they knew she had been murdered by Brian Laundrie was beyond outrageous,” the lawsuit said.

The amended suit does not elaborate on how the Petitos knew about the phone call Laundrie made to his parents about his fiancee being “gone”. But NBC News reported being told by the Petitos’ attorney, Pat Reilly, that the information came from depositions that the Laundries gave in October.

NBC also obtained a statement from Bertolino, who said: “We have no comment to the filed allegations. We will be filing our answers in the next few days.”

Petito’s death drew widespread attention online because she frequently posted on social media about her and Laundrie’s travels, building up a relatively sizable following. The couple grew up in Blue Point, New York, but moved to North Port, Florida, where Laundrie’s parents live.

The Petito and Laundrie families settled a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida for $3m last year. Petitos’ parents promised that whatever money is received would go to a foundation dedicated to finding missing people and curbing domestic violence.

Their amended lawsuit is part of a separate case also in Florida that is still pending. Another pending lawsuit being pursued by Petito’s family is a $50m wrongful death complaint against police in Moab, Utah. The couple at one point got into a fight there. But despite signs of domestic violence, officers allowed them to resume their journey, culminating in the murder-suicide.

Source: The Guardian