The stepfather of missing YouTube and Instagram star Gabby Petito, 22, has urged her fiance Brian Laundrie, 23, to “step up and do the right thing” and assist police with their inquiries into her disappearance.
The couple had been on a cross-country road trip from New York to Oregon together in Ms Petito’s white 2012 Ford Transit van since 2 July, only for Mr Laundrie to return to their home in North Port, Florida, alone on 1 September.
Ms Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, became concerned when she was unable to contact her daughter and alerted police, who launched a missing person’s investigation on 11 September, with Mr Laundrie so far refusing to cooperate and his family issuing a statement via their attorney, Steve Bertolino, saying they would be “remaining in the background”.
“This is an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family,” the statement read. “I understand that a search has been organised for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family. On the advice of counsel, the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”
Ms Petito was last seen with Mr Laundrie checking out of a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 24 August and last spoke to her family a day later when she told them the couple had arrived at the aforementioned national park. This was also the date of her final Instagram post.
Speaking after joining the search party in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and after Mr Laundrie was named as a “person of interest” by investigating authorities on Wednesday, stepfather James Schmidt, a former Long Island fire chief, told The Daily Mail: “We were made aware of that earlier today. He was with her, so he has to know something.
“Our family’s aware of the statements made by his attorney,” Mr Schmidt said. “It’s unacceptable. It is unacceptable to us. We deserve more. Gabby deserves more information out there. She deserves to be found and brought home safe. And we need you to step up and do the right thing.
“I understand a parent’s wishes are to always protect their children, no matter what,” he added. “I understand that. But it’s also about teaching your children the right thing and doing the right thing, no matter what the circumstances are. Whatever may have transpired or didn’t transpire, they need to come forward and start speaking to law enforcement agencies and be forthcoming with information.
“The longer they don’t, the longer it’s going to take to bring her home. And we need her home now. So, they have to. It’s not a matter of sit back. They have to come forward, for Gabby, for everyone.”
On his own arrival in the state, Mr Schmidt said: “We felt we needed a presence here … Since we got here, we’ve been basically working almost around the clock trying to gather information and let it be known that we’re out here and that we’re looking for her.
“I spoke to one law enforcement official. We’re really just here to support them in their investigation. We don’t want to interfere and hinder anything that they have, but we just want to show that we’re here for them and available for them at a moment’s notice for any questions or anything they may need.”
Mr Schmidt spoke of his stepdaughter’s passion for California and the American West and her love of camping holidays as a child.
He also implored members of the public to come forward with any information they might have, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and again called on Mr Laundrie and his family to cooperate.
“We’re just pleading with her boyfriend’s family to please stop staying in the background and come out and help find Gabby, help give us the information we need, whatever information you have. We need to know, we need to find her,” he said.
Ms Schmidt has made similar appeals and has said that previous text messages to Brian Laundrie and his mother Roberta have gone unanswered.
“The Schmidt and Petito family are going through the worst moments of their lives,” her lawyer, Richard Stafford, told NBC. “Their beautiful 22-year-old daughter is missing and the one person that can help find Gabby refuses to help.”
“Brian is also refusing to explain why he left Gabby all alone and drove her van to Florida,” he added. “These are critical questions that require immediate answers.”
Ms Petito’s father Joe has been equally vocal, reacting angrily to the Laundrie family’s statement during an interview with Fox News.
“I’m sorry. That’s not a statement,” he commented. “Forget Brian. Brian’s home safe. His parents, yeah it’s hard for them. Bulls***. You know what? My daughter is not here. Our daughter is not here. We don’t even know where she is, what state she’s in.
“You know, we’re shooting from the hip here and trying to do what we can. So I don’t care about the statement. I care about finding Gabby.”
Her godmother, Flora Rocco, meanwhile told NewsNation Now that there was nothing in Ms Petito’s prior behaviour to suggest anything was wrong either with herself or within her relationship, that she had been excited about her “dream trip” and that her disappearance was “really scary” and causing sleepless nights.
Neighbours of the couple in North Port have also been speaking out about the disappearance, telling ABC7 of their shock and one specifically declaring that she believes Mr Laundrie is “hiding the entire truth, I’m sorry that’s what I believe”.