Police stopped couple after fight on road trip before she went missing, report says

·4 min read

Police in Utah say they responded to a physical altercation between a New York woman and her fiancé on a cross-country road trip in August — less than a month before the woman's family reported her missing.

The responding officer wrote that Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito, 22, slapped Brian Laundrie after an argument, according to a report released Wednesday by the Moab City Police Department. But both she and Laundrie told the officer that neither wanted to press charges and that they loved each other.

Image: Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie (via Instagram)
Image: Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie (via Instagram)

The incident occurred on the afternoon of Aug. 12, according to the report. Petito's family say they lost contact with her in late August and reported her missing on Saturday. Laundrie is now a person of interest in the investigation into her disappearance, police confirmed Wednesday.

When asked for comment on the police report, the attorney for Petito's family, Richard Stafford, told NBC News, "The Petito and Schmidt family were instructed by law enforcement to not discuss the details of Gabby and Brian's relationship."

Laundrie and his family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An officer responded to a possible domestic violence call near a grocery store in Moab, about 140 miles southeast of Provo. The officer spoke with Petito, Laundrie and a witness whose name was partially redacted in the report.

“All three individuals gave me a similar and consistent story, consisting of the basic idea that the driver of the van, a male, had some sort of argument with the female, Gabbie, as I recall," the report says.

"The male tried to create distance by telling Gabbie to take a walk to calm down, she didn’t want to be separated from the male, and began slapping him. He grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van."

The incident appeared to be more a mental and emotional "break" than a domestic incident, police said.

“No one reported that the male struck the female, both the male and the female reported they are in love and engaged and to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime," according to the report. "There were no significant injures reported and both agreed that Gabbie suffers from serious anxiety.”

The officer wrote that when he arrived on scene, near the Moonflower Co-op, he was looking for a white Ford Transit van, which was later stopped by another officer near the entrance of the Arches National Park. While on scene, the Moab officer said there were also two park officers there, the report said.

During the exchange with police, the couple told officers they were struggling with their mental health, but not taking medication.

A second officer listed in the police report wrote he pulled over the van, driven by Laundrie, after observing it going about 45 mph in a 15-mph speed zone. After the officer turned on his lights to pull over the vehicle, he said he witnessed it swerve and strike the curb before it came to a stop.

After the van was pulled over, the officer said Petito was “crying uncontrollably” and told him she was struggling with her mental health. Petito was placed in the back of the officer’s car, the report said, while he spoke to Laundrie on his own.

Petito said she had hit Laundrie in the arm to get his attention as the officer was trying to pull them over, which caused the van to swerve into the curb, the report said. But Laundrie said he thought Petito was trying to grab the wheel while he was driving, resulting in the swerve. The officer said Laundrie's account "was not consistent with Gabrielle's statement" and reported he saw scratches on Laundrie's arm.

The couple had spent the past four or five months traveling together, which was creating tension, the report said. “The time spent created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments,” the report said.

The couple agreed to separate in lieu of police making a case against Petito for domestic assault, the report said. The officer said he needed to make sure Laundrie wasn’t a victim of “battered boyfriend syndrome."

Petito was given the van and Laundrie was taken to a hotel, police said. The couple separated for the night and no charges were filed.

The revelation that police in Utah encountered Petito, of Blue Point, Long Island, before she went missing comes as authorities continue to look for her and piece together her whereabouts. Petito was last known to be in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming in late August, when she stopped communicating with her family.

The couple had been documenting their travels in the 2012 van on YouTube under the monikers Nomadic Statik and Van Life. That van, with Florida plates, and Laundrie eventually got back to the city of North Port, south of Tampa, Florida, but without Petito, police said.

According to police, Laundrie has "not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators" and has "not provided any helpful details." He has been named a person of interest in the case by North Port police. The FBI is assisting in the investigation.