ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The parents of Gabby Petito claim in a new Florida lawsuit that Brian Laundrie told his parents he had killed her before he returned home alone from their ill-fated western trip in a converted van.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in Sarasota County Circuit Court contends that Laundrie told his parents on Aug. 28 that he had killed Petito, 22, his fiancee of about a year at the time.
Petito’s disappearance on the trip and the subsequent discovery of her slain body Sept. 19 in a Wyoming national park became a national obsession, augmented by the later search for Laundrie in a Florida nature preserve.
The FBI concluded that Laundrie strangled Petito — with whom he had previous domestic quarrels and violence — and that Laundrie fatally shot himself in the Carlton Reserve swamp after returning home alone Sept. 1.
The lawsuit contends that Christopher and Roberta Laundrie concealed that their son had confessed to the murder from investigators and Petito’s parents while the search for Gabby Petito was ongoing.
“In doing so, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie acted with malice or great indifference to the rights of (Gabby’s parents) Joseph Petito and Nicole Schmidt,” the lawsuit claims, adding that this conduct was “shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
The lawsuit adds that the Laundries were “making arrangements for him (Brian) to leave the country.” No evidence was included to back up this claim.
The lawsuit seeks damages of at least $30,000. An attorney for the Laundries, Steven Bertolino, said in a text message Friday that his clients were fully within their rights not to talk. He also denied the lawsuit’s claims in general.
“This lawsuit does not change the fact that the Laundries had no obligation to speak to law enforcement or any third party including the Petito family,” Bertolino said. “This fundamental legal principle renders the Petitos’ claims to be baseless under the law.”
Petito and Laundrie were both from Blue Point, New York, but moved to his parents’ Gulf Coast home in North Port, Florida, in 2019. It was Petito’s van the couple took on their trip from Florida, which was intended to end on Halloween on the Pacific coast.
The lawsuit says that until that trip and her disappearance, the families “had a cordial relationship.”
“Gabrielle Petito had hopes of becoming a travel influencer, a ‘van-lifer’ and document her cross-country travels” on various social media sites, the lawsuit says.
Petito had been in regular contact with her parents and posted frequently on social media about their travels, including YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. The couple had a regular following before the murder mystery took hold.
The FBI says Laundrie sent text messages from Petito’s cellphone to her parents and others in an effort to pretend she was still alive. He was also charged with illegally using one of her credit cards before his remains were discovered in the Florida nature preserve.