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We Want Gabrielle Petito to Find Justice

Domestic violence rarely makes the news—especially considering the rate at which we know it happens.

Sadly, 20 people per minute experience domestic violence (Source: VAWnet).

On the rare occasion that domestic violence, or alleged domestic violence, DOES make the news, people often refer to it using language that doesn’t adequately describe it.

We must preface this by saying that we understand this is a developing story. No one has been arrested or yet spoken out about possible involvement. However, it is important to write about this story that has made national news because we know it typically falls to people who work in the domestic violence field to educate and inform our communities about the dynamics and danger of violence. That is what this post is intended to do.

22-year-old Gabrielle Petito is from North Port, Florida, where she resides with her fiancé. According to CBS News, the two have been together for over 2 years. Recently, Petito and her fiancé went on a cross country road trip, rounding it out in Wyoming. The couple used a refurbished van for their travels, and last week, the van was parked outside of their home in North Port. Petito’s fiancé returned from that trip safely, but Petito did not.

And then he got a lawyer.

He is also refusing to comply with police in this investigation, and the only statement he has made thus far was through his lawyer and didn’t yield any new information.

According to Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, she would normally have a video call with her daughter three times a week. The last time Schmidt saw her daughter’s face and heard her voice via Facetime was on August 23 or 24. Schmidt said the last time she communicated with her daughter was on August 30 via text message, but that she is not certain if the texts were actually from Petito. The text said, “No service in Yosemite,” and not even 48 hours later on September 1, the fiancé arrived home.  (Source: CBS)

When the couple was in Moab, Utah, police responded to a 911 call issued by a third party that involved Petito and her fiancé.

The body cam footage from this call was recently released. About one hour in length, the footage captures Petito and her fiancé talking about a fight they were engaged in. After hours of hiking, the couple returned to the van for water. Petito wanted to work on her computer, but she told law enforcement officers the fiancé tried to lock her out of the van. Keep in mind that this van is where she sleeps, eats, lives. This van is her home, and the fiancé tried to take it away from her, leaving her backpack outside of the vehicle.

She was able to get through the window and attempt to unlock the van. The fiancé showed scratches on his hands that Petito left. Petito claims that she was apologizing for being OCD about their van’s cleanliness when the fiancé lashed out and started escalating things. He grabbed her head and pushed her away.

Law enforcement officers did not feel there was adequate evidence to make an arrest, though at one point they discussed arresting Petito, saying she was the main aggressor. The officers proceeded to tell the couple that they were not allowed to see each other or text each other for the night, asking Petito to stay in the van and offering the fiancé a hotel. “Just take time to cool off,” they said.

It begs the question: If Gabby had been listened to and believed at that point in time, would this case have taken a different turn? If the severity of domestic violence incidences was understood and the fear that was obvious in her body language and her account, would she be missing? The officers have since said they felt this was a mental health issue more so than a domestic violence issue. Yet no one was called to evaluate Petito’s mental health or to provide her services.

The officers described Petito as, “confused and emotional,” yet one of them gave the fiancé a fist bump as they were walking away, they joked with him. How were internal biases at play in this situation that affected the outcome?

The combination of this sudden decline in contact with her family, the 911 call, and an Instagram post Petito’s fiancé made before they left has alarm bells going off for those who work in this field. Suspicious Instagram captions and activity have also increased the alarm of people following this case.

After her initial disappearance, Petito’s Instagram was deactivated. It is now active again. No one is sure of who has control over her Instagram at this time since she is not responding to messages.

Petito’s fiancé is now a person of interest in this case.

We are going to call this what it is: a potential domestic violence incident that has resulted in the disappearance of Gabrielle Petito. Though we deeply hope for her return and encourage anyone who knows information regarding this case to come forward, we recognize the potential danger in this situation. Currently, law enforcement is also questioning if the homicide of a newlywed couple in Utah is connected to this case. It is an ongoing investigation and is not being ruled out.

We ask WFLA (Channel 8), ABC Action News, Fox News (Channel 13), and other local media outlets writing about this story to also take a stand and call it what it is.

If you know any information about this case, please call the FBI tip line: 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call our 24/7 hotline at (727) 895-4912.

We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks. The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out. ~North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison

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