NEW YORK – The family of slain traveler Gabby Petito on Tuesday implored the public and news media to put the same energy into helping find other missing people as they did Petito, a 22-year-old woman who vanished on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend.
Petito’s parents and stepparents spoke to reporters at a news conference in Bohemia, New York — showing off fresh tattoos based on her designs and mantra “Let it be” — as authorities in Florida continued searching for her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest in her disappearance and remains unaccounted for.
A lawyer for Petito’s family, Richard Stafford, renewed calls for Laundrie to turn himself in and criticized his parents for what he said was a lack of cooperation in the search that turned up Petito’s remains. The Laundries released a statement Monday saying they weren’t helping him flee.
“The Laundries did not help us find Gabby, they sure are not going to help us find Brian,” Stafford said. “For Brian, we’re asking you to turn yourself in to the FBI or the nearest law enforcement agency.”
Petito’s body was discovered Sept. 18 in a remote area in northwestern Wyoming. A memorial service was held Sunday on Long Island, where Laundrie and Petito grew up before moving to Florida in recent years. Her family announced it was starting a foundation to support people searching for missing loved ones.
Petito’s case has led to renewed calls for people to pay greater attention to cases involving missing Indigenous women and other people of color, with some commentators describing the intense coverage of her disappearance as “missing white woman syndrome.”
Joseph Petito thanked the news media and social media for spotlighting his daughter’s disappearance, but he said all missing persons deserved the same attention.
“I want to ask everyone to help all the people that are missing and need help. It’s on all of you, everyone that’s in this room to do that,” he said, pointing to reporters and cameras in front of him. “And if you don’t do that for other people that are missing, that’s a shame, because it’s not just Gabby that deserves it.”
The search for Laundrie is also generating a frenzy, with TV personalities like Duane Chapman — known as Dog the Bounty Hunter — and longtime “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh working to track him down.
Stafford said Petito’s family welcomed everybody’s help in finding Laundrie and encouraged people with information on his whereabouts to contact the FBI or local police.
Petito was reported missing Sept. 11 by her parents after she didn’t respond to calls and texts for several days while she and Laundrie visited parks in the West.
Her death has been ruled a homicide, but authorities in Wyoming haven’t disclosed how she died pending further autopsy results. Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, said Wyoming authorities still had possession of her remains.
Petito and Laundrie posted online about their trip in a white Ford Transit van converted into a camper. They got into a physical altercation Aug. 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop, which ended with police deciding to separate the quarreling couple for the night. No charges were filed, and no serious injuries were reported.
Investigators have been searching for Laundrie in Florida, and searched his parents’ home in North Port, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Sarasota.
Last week, federal officials in Wyoming charged Laundrie with unauthorized use of a debit card, alleging he used a Capital One Bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorized withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing. They did not say who the card belonged to.
Joseph Petito said the Gabby Petito Foundation is in the formative stages and will seek to fill in any gaps that exist in the work of finding missing people. He said they would work with organizations that helped them, like the AWARE Foundation and We Help The Missing.
“We need positive stuff to come from the tragedy that happened,” Joseph Petito said. “We can’t let her name be taken in vain.”
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak