Unfortunately the search for Gabby Petito has come to a sad end with the discovery of human remains near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. While the FBI has not confirmed it was Gabby, they have publicly given her family their condolences — so it’s clear they’re confident it’s her.
The search will no longer move forward, so instead investigators are diving deeper. Everything we learn about the YouTuber‘s final days with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie could be critical, and this piece of the puzzle is very informative indeed.
We already knew, of course, that the couple were stopped by police as they drove their van through Moab, Utah, on August 12, after a witness called police to say they saw a domestic altercation. A police body camera video has been public for days. If you haven’t seen it, the vid shows the couple in the aftermath of something, but police talking to them decided based on their interviews with both Gabby and Brian that she was just having a “mental health crisis.” Hmm…
We can’t help but wonder if things would have gone differently if police had intervened more directly. After all, the witness reported seeing a man hitting a woman, telling police in a recently released 911 call:
“We drove by them. A gentleman was slapping the girl… And then we stopped and they ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”
That doesn’t sound like she’s having some kind of fit to us!
Well, it turns out a park ranger in the area felt the same way. Melissa Hulls, the visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park, also responded to the possible domestic assault call that day.
Speaking to Deseret News, she reveals that she is now haunted by her interaction with Gabby:
“I can still hear her voice. She wasn’t just a face on the milk carton, she was real to me.”
Melissa explains that despite a police officer already being there, she noticed there was no other woman for the 22-year-old to talk to, so she stopped to help.
She says she actually did warn Gabby that she thought their relationship showed the signs of a “toxic” one to her:
“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life.”
She admits now this may have been overstepping after only interacting with the young woman for about an hour and a half:
“I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been.”
So aside from the alleged violence, what did Melissa see that clued her in something was wrong with the relationship? She explains:
“She had a lot of anxiety about being away from him, I honestly thought if anything was going to change it would be after they got home to Florida.”
Yeah, that doesn’t sound healthy. Abusive partners can create that sort of bond. Though obviously we don’t know the full story yet, we actually think the park ranger was probably right, in hindsight, to have tried.
Unfortunately the police reaction went the way it did, and no arrests were made. The couple were sent on their way, something Hulls clearly regrets:
“This wasn’t a good day for anybody. We thought we were making the right decision when we left them.”
So why did they?
Well, as she explains, the couple’s stories lined up — and both pointed toward her as being the aggressor. The officers determined in hitting her boyfriend, Gabby was just being “emotional” and her violence “wasn’t done maliciously.”
So the choices were to charge her or let them go?? Hulls says:
“Sometimes you get evidence and they don’t own up to it, and they’re just lying to your face and it’s unsafe, and you know that something more is going to happen if you let them go home together. That’s a much easier decision to arrest. With this one, I just don’t think she understood how big a deal this was.”
“I wouldn’t have called (the relationship) unsafe. If we had any reason to think any one of them was in danger, we would’ve separated them.”
On the criticism of how law enforcement handled the incident, she says “it’s easy to say that when you can break down a video, minute by minute, and judge it, versus being in the moment where we saw minor injuries and two people that were apologetic.” She continues:
“It’s not that we didn’t think he was manipulative, but we have to worry about the safety, and not the psychology of it. We have to go by the facts that we were faced with at the time, and not let our emotions drive the decision.”
Now the 17-year veteran can’t bear to watch the bodycam footage back:
“I honestly haven’t looked at my body camera footage for that night. It’s hard to think about now because I feel like I could’ve said more to help her. It’s hard not to second-guess myself, and wish I said more, or wish I had found the right words to make her believe that she deserved more.”
Something tells us a lot of folks are going to feel that way as more comes out. Remember, some people knew these two for years.
On her regrets, Melissa says she will definitely learn from the case:
“It’s hard not to think that I could’ve done something more, or found the exact words to make her change her life right then. There are so many circumstances where you wish it had gone a certain way, and if you get stuck with the ‘would have, could have, should have,’ you can’t do this job. You got to learn from it and keep going, otherwise you’re not going to be help for the next Gabby.”
Did officers do everything they could? Could they have saved Gabby??
What do YOU think they should have done??
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