As the media sensation around Gabby Petito’s death continues, her parents sat down for an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw on Tuesday.
The tragedy around 22-year-old Gabby’s disappearance and death has captivated the nation since the news first broke about the pretty, young Instagram personality. For her parents, though, it was obviously far more personal, and while on Dr. Phil’s show, they spoke about how they felt when they first began to suspect something was very wrong, and how they felt when the FBI told them that they’d found forensic evidence indicating Gabby’s physical remains had been found.
Gabby has had multiple parent figures. Nichole Schmidt, wife of Jim Schmidt, is Gabby’s biological mother. Joe Petito, husband to Tara Petito, is Gabby’s biological father. Both parents, and both step-parents, have been involved in Gabby’s life since she was one.
The four parents were dispersed throughout the nation when the FBI contacted them on September 19th to tell them they “had some information they wanted to share,” said Jim Schmidt, in Wyoming at the time.
According to Jim, FBI agents rushed into a hotel conference room, eager to talk to him before the press got wind of their gruesome discovery: a piece of clothing that her family instantly recognized as her favorite sweatshirt.
“They described a piece of clothing to me that matched one of her favorite sweatshirts that we knew … was hers. We were all crying in the room. You know, couldn’t believe it, because we were holding out for hope. I knew what we were potentially going to find when we came here,” Jim told Dr. Phil.
It only got worse from there, as the rest of the family was added via conference call. Jim managed to gather himself enough to relay the next horrible revelation to the rest of the family on the call: that a body matching Gabby’s description had been found.
“I was able to compose myself and we got everybody on a conference call, and I was able to relay it to everyone,” Jim recalled. From New York, Nichole Schmidt heard the awful news about the body, tearfully recalling that “we knew it was Gabby. Even though we were hoping it wasn’t. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to listen to … But I knew she was gone. As a mom, I knew she was gone.”
Nicole told Dr. Phil that she had suspicions about a worst-case scenario on September 11th, when she first reported Gabby missing. Nicole filed the report after finding out from the police that the van that Gabby and fiance Brian Laundrie had been using to trek across the country had been located back in North Port, Florida, where he and Gabby had been living with his parents.
“I didn’t want to admit it, but I felt it the night I found out the van was in Florida on the 11th, I felt in my heart that she was gone,” Nicole recalled.
Originally, the parents had tried calling Brian Laundrie’s parents, in the belief that he was missing as well. Suspicion mounted when they received no answer.
“One of the texts, I mean, I was going to call the police. You know, ‘Just letting you know because we have no idea, no responses.’ A normal parent, when you text someone that they’re going to call the cops because you can’t find your child, they would reply,” Joe Petito recalled.
When Dr. Phil asked if the Petito family believed Laundrie was in hiding, Joe confirmed, saying “100 percent.”
“[Laudrie is] a coward. Flat out. I could use some other words, but I can’t use them on your show. Coward. Anyone that lived in that house is a coward, and they don’t know how to stand up for their actions,” Joe told Dr. Phil.
The van Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito had been using for their road trip returned to the North Port house on September 1st, but she was not reported as missing until the 11th, when Nicole contacted the authorities in Suffolk County, New York. Richard Stafford, attorney for the Petito family (Joe and Tara Petito, though he is also representing Jim and Nicole Schmidt), who was also present at the interview, alleged that Laundrie had stolen Gabby’s credit card, and had utilized it “to get home and then ran from the police.”
The alleged credit card theft and misuse is the basis of an FBI warrant for Laundrie’s arrest for bank card fraud. Nobody has yet been charged with Gabby’s death, which was declared a homicide after an FBI autopsy.
The hunt for Laundrie has taken on a media life of its own, with countless tips pouring in regarding sightings of Laundrie. Dog the Bounty Hunter, himself a television celebrity, has also been on Laundrie’s trail.
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