Everyone is looking for missing Gabby Petito. The 22-year-old Florida resident and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, reportedly quit their jobs for a cross-country trip, hoping to take in nature and document their adventures on YouTube, Instagram, and Tik-Tok. It sounds idyllic until you realize that the hashtag #vanlife has more than 11 million posts on Instagram; for some, it has become a way of life. In their posts and videos, Petito and Laundrie said they were downsizing, choosing to live more minimalistic lives, and exploring national parks in their converted 2012 Ford Connect Transit van.
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, reported her daughter missing on September 11. Brian Laundrie returned to the couple’s home in North Point, Florida, on September 1, alone. Laundrie has been staying with his parents in Florida and is a “person of interest” according to North Point police.
Gabby Petito’s Ford Transit Connect van has been a running constant in her search
Much of the focus has been on the 2012 van and the life she and Brian Laundrie lived for the weeks in July and August that they traveled. Before launching out in their new life, Petito and Laundrie fixed up their van for the adventure they hoped would be as they must have envisioned.
But usually, the reality is never as one imagines, especially in that cramped Transit van. They did, however, try to convert the vehicle’s interior with custom designs and an eye toward space utilization.
Petito also launched a YouTube channel as a vehicle for documenting the couple’s adventures, called Nomadic Statik. She succeeded in posting only a single video, “Van Life | Beginning Our Van Life Journey”, on August 19.
We handcrafted our own tiny van-Gabby Petito
As Petito described in a caption for her video: “We handcrafted our own tiny van, a simple 2012 Ford Transit Connect, utilizing space with unique designs and features. Creating a space for both artistic expression and distance hiking.”
From the photos, it’s evident the van provided little living space and was more for storing their stuff. Sleeping, cooking, and leisure time seem to have taken place outside in open spaces or in their tent.
Once Laundrie returned home, alone, and Petito’s family filed a missing-person report 10 days later, much of the focus has been directed on the van’s whereabouts and a timeline of the couple’s trip. Reports are varied, but Petito and Laundrie were possibly last identified together in the van near the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Other reports said they were spotted in Idaho.
Was Gabby Petito’s Ford van found?
Florida police and U.S. authorities seized the van in North Point, Florida. When the van was processed, authorities said “there was some material there.” They’re not saying what that might be, raising all kinds of speculation on the internet.
The couple began their road trip on July 2 from Blue Point, New York. Their van-life journey was to take them to Portland, Oregon, by Halloween. Between those two dates, they would see what adventures lay ahead. Petito regularly posted and also kept her family informed of where the pair were through mid-August.
Then those updates became less frequent. The last text to her mother came around August 23. Laundrie had driven the van home to Florida according to reports. On September 16, body camera footage was released by the Moab City Police Department, taken when the couple was stopped in Moab for possible “domestic disturbance” on August 12.
Days earlier the Ford van was pulled over in Utah by police
Police observed the van being driven erratically before crashing into a curb. The two had been arguing and there was possibly physical abuse between the pair according to the video. While police suspected drunk driving, Petito and Laundrie said they don’t drink. Interviews at the side of the road by patrol officers provide a glimpse of the interactions between the two.
The bodycam video shows a clearly distraught Petito reacting to her interaction with police after they pulled over the white van near a market in Moab. Officers decided to separate the couple for the evening. Laundrie stayed overnight in a motel while Gabby stayed in the van.
Speculation has arisen surrounding a possible connection between Petito and Laundrie’s argument and the case of another couple who were found murdered in the vicinity around the same time.
What have police found inside the van?
While the FBI, rangers, volunteers, and Petito’s family search for her in Wyoming and authorities question Laundrie, a thorough investigation of the van’s interior and exterior will continue. Authorities are examining tips and possible sitings of the van’s whereabouts. Sadly, in this particular case, van life didn’t play out as Petito and Laundrie dreamed.
The FBI’s national hotline for tips on information about Gabby Petito is 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324). They request that anyone with information to reach out.