A person who saw doomed “van-life” couple Gabby Petito and fiancé Brian Laundrie fighting in Moab, Utah, told cops that “something definitely didn’t seem right,” according to a witness statement released by authorities.
Petito and Laundrie set off in July to travel the U.S., visiting the country’s national parks and wilderness areas while living out of a converted 2012 Ford Transit Connect van. But although their online postings portrayed a blissful existence on the road, the couple’s relationship was in fact starting to fray by mid-August, a police report obtained by The Daily Beast revealed.
On Sept. 1, Laundrie, 23, arrived back at the North Port, Florida, home he shared with his parents and the 22-year-old Petito. But Petito, mysteriously, wasn’t with him. On Sept. 11, having not heard from their daughter in two weeks—and after receiving an “odd” text message that raised red flags for Petito’s mom—the Petito family called the police to report her missing. Three weeks later, Petito’s body was found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Laundrie, who was named a person of interest in the case, has thus far refused to speak to investigators. In the midst of it all, Laundrie himself suddenly vanished while hiking in a nearby nature preserve, according to his family. The FBI has led a manhunt to find Laundrie—so far with no success.
The new witness statement provides further details into what went on between Petito and Laundrie during their final days together. On the afternoon of Aug. 12, someone identified only as “Chris” arrived at the Moonflower Co-op, a natural foods store in Moab, states the partially redacted witness statement taken by the Moab City PD. It was there that he saw the beginning of the now-infamous dust-up between Petito and Laundrie that took place shortly before her death.
“While standing on the south side of the street, I observed a man & woman appear to have some sort of dispute,” the statement explains. “They were talking aggressively @ each other, & something seemed off. At one point they were sort of fighting over a phone—I think the male took the female’s phone.”
It appeared to Chris that Laundrie “didn’t want her in the white van,” and as he got in the driver’s seat, Petito tried to follow him inside, it continues, adding that Petito began “punching him in the arm and/or face” while struggling to gain access to the vehicle. She eventually climbed over Laundrie and made it to the passenger seat, according to the statement.
“I heard her say, ‘Why do you have to be so mean,’” it says. “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.”
Chris “noticed another person had called this in,” he wrote, so as he left Moonflower, he gave his contact info to a police officer he spotted nearby.
The couple was later pulled over by Moab police, an encounter that was captured on an officer’s body camera. According to the incident report, cops first thought Laundrie had assaulted Petito. They then came to believe that Petito had been the aggressor and told her she was lucky they didn’t arrest her for domestic abuse. However, this narrative was contradicted by 911 audio released by the Moab City PD in which the caller told the dispatcher that as he drove by, he observed Laundrie “slapping” Petito.
In the bodycam footage subsequently released by the Moab City PD, Petito can be seen telling police that she and Laundrie had been clashing over “personal issues” after being together in such close quarters for months on end. And although the tensions were getting more acute, neither one wanted to press charges—they were “in love” and “engaged to be married,” they told cops. Both said they suffered from severe anxiety, and police decided the encounter constituted a “mental/emotional health ‘break’” rather than a domestic assault, stated the accompanying police report.
No one was injured, and no arrests were made. Police got Laundrie a motel room where he could spend the night, and Gabby kept the van, which was registered in her name. The two promised to keep their distance from one another until the next day, which cops told them would let them “reset their mental states.”
Petito’s death—and Laundrie’s potential involvement in it—came as a total shock to Jaye Foster, another van-lifer who met Petito and Laundrie in Moab.
“They were holding hands, they were ecstatic about their rebuild,” Foster told The Daily Beast. “That’s what I find so weird about the whole situation, is that they were both really cool. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, the search for Laundrie continues. Gabby Petito’s father, Joe, recently told The Daily Beast that Laundrie’s silence has frustrated him beyond words and that he simply wanted the young man to sit down with investigators to tell them what he knows.
On Monday, the FBI declared the Laundrie home an “active crime scene,” and Laundrie’s parents were seen getting into a black van with an FBI agent.
“The FBI is executing a court-authorized search warrant today at the Laundrie residence in North Port, FL relevant to the Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito investigation,” the bureau’s Tampa field office said in a statement.
Of Laundrie, Joe Petito told the Beast, “I’ve got thoughts about the guy, but I can’t share them… I would love to say more, but I can’t.”
Laundrie’s parents did not respond to multiple requests for comment.