Domestic violence red flags missed in footage of Petito, Laundrie

Published: October 13, 2021 9:55 AM EDT
Updated: October 13, 2021 10:29 AM EDT
Gabby Petito sits in a police vehicle during an investigation into an altercation between her and Brian Laundrie in Moab, Utah. (CREDIT: Moab Police Department)

The Moab Police Department in Utah is reviewing a traffic stop it made two weeks before Gabby Petito disappeared, when its officers stopped Petito and fiancé Brian Laundrie because a witness called 911 to report a man hitting a woman.

“I was yelling at him, then when you turned your lights on, I kind of punched his arm,” Petito can be heard saying on an officer’s body camera.

“I know I shouldn’t have pushed her, but I was just trying to push her to say, ‘Let’s just take a minute, step back and breathe,’ and she got me,” Laundrie said.

Petito admitted she was the aggressor. Officers treated it as a domestic violence call for an hour, ready to arrest Petito.

Linda Oberhaus, CEO of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, watched the entire 78-minute clip and pointed out the red flags she says officers missed.

Knowing this is a domestic call, the officer does the right thing and immediately separates Petito and Laundrie. Three minutes in, however, Oberhaus spots the first red flag.

“I just quit my job to travel across the country and I’m trying to start a blog,” Petito says in the video. “I just have a lot of stuff. Building my website and I just have been really stressed, and he doesn’t believe I could do any of it.”

“The fact that she… she has a life, that she has a blog that she started, that, you know, she has people that she’s connected with online and that he’s not okay with that,” Oberhaus said, is a red flag.

She says domestic violence starts with isolation, as the abuser wants the survivor to themselves. Then they start to devalue the person.

“Brian didn’t feel like she was competent enough to be able to do this, which is very common,” Oberhaus said.

Another red flag: when Petito admits Brian touched her.

“He, like, grabbed my face with his nail, I definitely have a cut right here,” Petito says.

Finally, Laundrie discredits her with a quick, off-the-cuff comment: “She’s just crazy.”

“He looked at the officer and he just sort of smiles and giggles and says ‘She’s crazy,'” Oberhaus said. “It plants the seed for the officers that, okay, they’re dealing with a person that’s mentally ill.”

Ultimately, that’s what happened. In the report, the officer wrote: “I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis.”

Despite the red flags missed, Oberhaus says she was impressed with the officers.