What to Know
- Gabby Petito's family is launching a new foundation in her name to help other families in their situation -- and they called on fiancé Brian Laundrie, who has been missing two weeks, to turn himself in
- Their Tuesday remarks come as the FBI takes over as lead investigative agency in the search for Laundrie, the prime person of interest in Petito's disappearance. He hasn't been seen since Sept. 14
- Petito's death has been classified as a homicide, meaning she was killed by another person, but medical examiners in Wyoming haven't yet disclosed how she died, pending further autopsy results
The family of a 22-year-old Long Island woman whose mysterious death during a cross-country road trip sparked a national manhunt for her fiancé pleaded directly Tuesday with that man to turn himself in as they reflected on a bright young woman whose zest for life they want to propel forward as they grapple with relentless grief.
Gabby Petito's mother and stepfather, Nichole and Jim Schmidt, along with her father and stepmother, Joe and Tara Petito, each wore light blue ribbons on their hearts as they debuted new tattoos that were designed by her or hold her memory.
"We don't stop remembering Gabby and keeping her name out there and fighting for other people out there like her. She's always with us every day," said Jim Schmidt as the family announced plans to create a new foundation in Petito's name. "It's difficult. Where do you go from here? How do you go back to normal?"
Apart from keeping Petito's memory alive, the family wants justice for her homicide, their attorney, Richard Stafford, said. Stafford said the family trusts the FBI to get it and asked for continued privacy on their behalf as they mourn.
The lawyer would not discuss Petito's relationship with her fiance Brian Laundrie, citing a recommendation from the FBI as they continue their ongoing investigation.
But Stafford did make one thing clear when asked about the ongoing efforts to find Laundrie, who disappeared two weeks ago after his parents told law enforcement he said he was going hiking at a sprawling Florida nature preserve.
"The Laundries did not help us find Gabby. They're sure as not gonna 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."
The family's latest remarks come as the FBI takes over as lead investigative agency in a scaled-back, yet highly targeted search for Petito's 23-year-old fiance and a day after Laundrie's parents sought to dispel the latest rumors they may have somehow helped their son evade law enforcement.
Petito's parents have been vocal since they reported her missing on Sept. 11 after she didn’t respond to calls and texts for several days while she and Laundrie visited parks in the West. On Tuesday, her mother Nichole Schmidt tearfully discussed the need to keep their daughter's "light going" as they talked about the new foundation.
That foundation will aim to help other missing women and their families. As father Joe Petito said, the goal is to maximize the help and minimize the nightmare for other families who may experience situations as horrifying as their own.
"We need positive stuff to come from the tragedy that happened. We can't let her name be taken in vain," Joe Petito said. "Anything we can do to bring that up and help people, that's what we want to do."
More on Gabby Petito
Petito's remains were found earlier this month in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, where she and Laundrie visited. They were discovered more than a week after her mother first reported her missing and days after Laundrie went off the grid.
The young woman's death has been ruled a homicide, meaning she was killed by another person, but medical examiners in Wyoming haven’t disclosed how she died pending further autopsy results. As of the latest update, Petito's remains were still with the county coroner's office hundreds of miles away from her hometown.
Her family said Tuesday they would retrieve Petito's remains as soon as the coroner's office and the FBI are ready to release them. It's not clear when that'll be.
Laundrie is the FBI's prime person of interest in Petito's disappearance, officials have said, but he has not been charged with crimes relating to it at this point.
Last week, federal officials charged Laundrie with a single count of unauthorized debit card use, alleging he used a Capital One Bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make non-permitted withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000. Officials have said they now believe those transactions were likely made during a time period after Petito was already dead.
They have not said whose debit card Laundrie is accused of using illegally.
That outstanding arrest warrant, while not connecting Laundrie to Petito's death, gives law enforcement the grounds to at least hold Laundrie if they find him.
Officials urged anyone with information on Laundrie -- whether about his current whereabouts or any potential involvement in Petito's death -- to contact the FBI. With online sleuths and theories multiplying by the day, the FBI and police have been deluged with tips about possible Laundrie sightings from as far off as Canada.
None have panned out so far.