The couple were visiting Western National Parks in their van before Petito disappeared – and although she had never lived in Utah, her love of nature and the time she spent there connects her. to the community, said the organizer of the vigil, Serena Chavez.
“We won’t forget you. We won’t let your light go down,” Chavez told the group. “We will remember other missing women or children. Their families are devastated and I can only imagine what Gabby’s family is going through.”
Petito’s remains were found in an undeveloped camping area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sunday. She was first reported missing by her family on September 11, after her fiance, Brian Laundrie, returned home to Florida after the trip without her on September 1.
Authorities searched a Florida nature reserve for laundry. And after his death was declared a homicide on Tuesday, the FBI turned to the public, asking for help in locating him.
“It’s not just a name. It’s not just a business. She was a person, and she was very special to a lot of people and a lot of us here,” said the CEO. Lara Witschen at WWAY. “She was a good soul, a good spirit and touched so many lives. That’s why we want to be remembered.”
Witness says he saw “commotion” involving the couple
Petito’s story has become a national obsession for many, prompting digital detectives to tread the couple’s online trail in an attempt to resolve the case. History has also highlighted the tens of thousands of missing person stories that do not generate such intense interest; there were nearly 90,000 active missing persons cases at the end of 2020, according to the National Crime Information Center.
And that has led members of the audience to present tales of Petito’s last days.
Nina Angelo told CNN on Wednesday that she and her boyfriend, Matt England, saw a “commotion” as the couple left The Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming.
Angelo said Petito was in tears and Laundrie was visibly angry, entering and leaving the restaurant several times, showing anger towards the staff around the hostess booth. The couple’s waitress was also visibly shaken by the incident, according to Angelo, who told CNN she had not seen any violence or physical altercation between Petito and Laundrie.
A Merry Piglets official, who declined to give her name, told CNN she saw “an incident” at the restaurant on August 27 and called the FBI on Wednesday. The manager declined to describe what happened and said the restaurant did not have surveillance video of the incident.
And in a series of videos on TikTok, Miranda Baker said that she and her boyfriend drove Laundrie on August 29 in Wyoming – and that he claimed he was camping alone for several days while Petito returned. in their van working on social media. posts.
Baker said they picked up Laundrie while he was hitchhiking in Colter Bay, Wyoming, which is not far from where Petito’s remains were found. He offered to pay $ 200 for the ride before even getting in the car, she said.
The search for laundry continues
Investigators, meanwhile, are focusing on finding Laundrie, who arrived at her parents’ home in North Port, Florida three weeks ago and has not spoken to police about the case.
His family told police he left the house with his backpack on Tuesday and told them he was heading to the nearby Carlton reservation.
Authorities have combed the reserve over the past few days and the search will resume on Thursday, according to Josh Taylor, communications manager for the North Port Police Department.
A team of about 10 divers from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office are participating in the search, according to Kaitlyn Perez, spokesperson for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Underwater Recovery Force (SURF) team is highly specialized, Perez said.
“In the state of Florida we have some truly unique bodies of water, from marshes to beaches to lakes and everything in between.”
“These divers are specially trained and very talented in low visibility water bodies,” she said. “They dive where you and I can’t see anything at all. They use technology and other special equipment to help them descend deep, into very deep bodies of water.”
Commander Joe Fussell of the North Port Police Department said they have “deployed a lot of resources, and we are trying to cover every acre of that reserve.”
911 call from a domestic dispute
Florida Police said in a recent search warrant affidavit that Petito’s mother received a strange text on August 27 and that this was the last communication from her.
Petito, who was chronicling the couple’s trip to national parks, also stopped posting on social media at the time.
Throughout the trip, the couple had regularly posted their trips online with the hashtag #VanLife, but those posts came to a screeching halt in late August.
Evidence from a 911 call regarding a “domestic conflict” involving Petito and Laundrie shows that the couple’s volatile relationship was not as ambitious as their sunny Instagram and YouTube lives suggested.
A man who saw the marital dispute between Petito and Laundrie in Utah last month said, “They were talking to each other aggressively, and something seemed to be wrong.”
In a handwritten affidavit, witness named Chris – whose last name was redacted in the document provided by Moab City Police to CNN – said it appeared the two were arguing over control of the Petito’s phone. “At one point she would hit him on the arm and / or face and try to get into the van.”
The witness said he heard Petito say, “Why do you have to be so mean? Though Chris added that he couldn’t be sure the comment was meant to be taken seriously. Moab City Police responded to the incident and the couple agreed to spend the night separately.
The City of Moab, Utah, is investigating the City of Moab Police Department’s handling of a possible domestic conflict, a city statement said.
CNN’s Randi Kaye and Kari Pricher, Leyla Santiago and Rebekah Riess, Amanda Watts and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.