Gabby Petito deserved better

Laynie Clark and Jessica McLaren

Trigger warning: Domestic violence is discussed in this article.

Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old travel influencer, was a sweet soul whose life is now being mourned nationwide. On Sept. 1, Petito’s fiancé Brian Laundrie returned home early from a trip they took together through the Midwest — only, he was alone. She was reported missing ten days later by her family in New York. After two weeks of futile investigation, Laundrie was named a person of interest after refusing to cooperate with officials; three days later, he was nowhere to be found. On Sept. 27, nearly a full month later, Petito’s remains were discovered near Teton Park in Wyoming, and 24 days thereafter, the remains of Brian Laundrie were identified in Florida. Although it cannot be confirmed without DNA analysis, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the influencer was murdered by Laundrie. The disappearance and murder of Petito was a tragedy, and it was entirely preventable.

On Aug. 12, an encounter took place that could have saved Petito’s life. Responding to a 911 call from a concerned passerby, law enforcement in Moab, Utah pulled over the white van that frequently appeared in the blogger’s Instagram posts. In the infamous dash-cam clip, Petito can be seen visibly upset as she and Laundrie are questioned by law enforcement due to a physical altercation. The footage, which spans almost an hour, depicts Petito explaining to responding officer Eric Pratt that Laundrie struck her first. Pratt separates the pair to speak with them individually before proceeding to laugh with Laundrie while a distraught Petito hyperventilates in the back. Petito, whose demeanor has now completely changed, confronts the officer and takes full responsibility for the altercation, explaining that her obsessive compulsive tendencies often upset Laundrie. The officers take her account at face value and dismiss the pair, sealing the 22-year-old’s tragic fate.

 This raises the question: could the tragedy of Petito been avoided had the responding officer recognized the signs of domestic abuse? The dash-cam footage clearly displays evidence of a violent and troubled relationship, yet the officers remain oblivious and fail to intervene. Whether the result of improper training or simply carelessness, the failure to recognize Petito’s emotional distress likely cost the young woman her life. Behind Petito’s “confession” of guilt lurks an eerie cry for help that is painfully obvious. She displays overt signs of manipulation and emotional abuse, only to be dismissed by willfully ignorant law enforcement.

Victims of domestic violence are often stripped of their dignity, coerced and silenced. Petito’s voice, and ultimately her life, was stolen from her. The couple’s encounter with law enforcement was more than enough evidence of abuse to necessitate interference. Nevertheless, her pleas were dismissed as a mental health crisis, despite witness accounts that allege Laundrie initiated the dispute. Officer Pratt acted with bias and a complete disregard for the severity of domestic violence — he failed to make the critical call that would have saved Petito’s life. Petito was actively neglected by the system that had sworn to protect her, and she deserved better.