On August 30, Gabby’s mother, Nicole, received the last text message allegedly sent by her daughter. “No signal in Yosemite,” it read.
By early September 2021, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed vlogger had disappeared. And Laundrie, 23, returned home to North Port – alone.
When Gabby’s parents hadn’t heard from their bubbly daughter, they were horrified to learn Laundrie had travelled thousands of kilometres home without her.
Gabby was officially reported missing on September 11, 2021 by her worried family, who later penned a public plea to the Laundrie family.
“Please, if you or your family have any decency left, please tell us where Gabby is located,” their letter read. “All we want is for Gabby to come home … We haven’t been able to sleep or eat, and our lives are falling apart.”
Authorities paid a visit to Laundrie’s family home in a bid for information, but the family refused to speak and directed police to their attorney.
And while Gabby had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, so had Laundrie. Three days after Gabby was reported missing, Laundrie’s family said he had left home with a backpack and was going to a nearby nature reserve.
It was the beginning of a modern internet true-crime mystery. When Gabby’s bizarre disappearance found its way to TikTok, amateur sleuths quickly took over.
Armchair detectives scoured every video and photo from Gabby and Laundrie’s travels, poring over every detail to find evidence of their fractured relationship.
Thousands of videos with bizarre theories about Gabby’s disappearance emerged online, with users attempting to solve the case.
Users theorised about the last place Gabby had been seen alive by using her location tags and forensically analysing her videos for clues.
While the couple had seemed happy to outsiders, it was revealed they were privately having relationship problems.
Disturbing body cam footage from a police officer who pulled the pair over in Utah sparked concerns of violence and verbal abuse.
“We’ve just been fighting this morning, personal issues,” a crying Gabby told the officer. She went on to admit that Laundrie had struck her in the face after she had hit him.
This footage triggered internet sleuths, detectives and Gabby’s family alike to zero in even further on Laundrie.
“It was like every parent’s nightmare, just like in a flash of a second,” Gabby’s stepfather, Jim, said in the new documentary, The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media. “She’s gone. She’s missing.”
While Laundrie’s own disappearance complicated the investigation, authorities still focused on finding Gabby. Because of the couple’s lengthy cross-country travels, searching for the young woman in America’s national parks was like
finding a needle in a haystack.
Finally, on September 21, Gabby’s family were faced with the worst news possible. Her body had been found in a remote northern Wyoming parkland. The internet collectively mourned the death of the once full-of-life traveller.
It was later found Gabby had been strangled up to four weeks before her remains were discovered. With homicide the cause of death, authorities now had every reason to suspect her fiancé, Laundrie. Yet he was still missing, too.
A warrant was issued for his arrest and the online obsession with finding Gabby shifted to Laundrie.
Weeks into the search, on October 20, investigators found human remains and personal belongings at Florida’s Carlton Reserve, in an area that had previously been underwater – the remains were confirmed to be Laundrie’s.
His attorney told the media a single gunshot wound was found on his head. It marked the end of a nationwide manhunt and a mammoth, months-long effort to find justice for Gabby.
What started as an innocent road trip had ended in the murder and suspected suicide of both Gabby and Laundrie.
With no witnesses, it is likely authorities will never know how their relationship took such a dark turn. Gabby’s murder remains an ongoing FBI homicide investigation.
For Gabby’s grieving mother, Nicole, knowing how many people were so deeply affected by her daughter’s death is an immense comfort.
“Her bright, beautiful light touched a lot of people,” Nicole said.
If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.