CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Brian Laundrie’s parents detail ‘the day everything hit the fan’ after their son told them Gabby Petito was ‘gone’

Feb 14, 2024, 7:30 PM

Petito was reported missing by her family in September 2021 after she embarked on a trip with Laund...

Petito was reported missing by her family in September 2021 after she embarked on a trip with Laundrie, her fiancé. (From Gabby Petito/Instagram via CNN)

(From Gabby Petito/Instagram via CNN)

Originally Published: 14 FEB 24 09:49 ET

(CNN) — In newly filed court documents, Brian Laundrie’s parents detail “the day everything hit the fan,” recalling an exchange of frantic phone calls as their son told them his fiancee Gabby Petito was “gone” and he needed them to find him an attorney as he drove back home without her.

The calls took place on August 29, 2021, three weeks before Petito’s strangled remains were found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest after she was reported missing by her family, according to depositions from Laundrie’s parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, whose son also was soon found dead amid mounting national attention on the case.

The depositions are part of a lawsuit brought by Petito’s parents against Laundrie’s parents for pain and emotional distress, claiming the Laundries knew their son had killed Gabby and intentionally withheld that information.

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie had embarked early that summer on a cross-country van trip she was documenting on social media as an aspiring travel influencer. But Laundrie returned to his Florida home on September 1 and later vanished into a nature reserve for weeks. After investigators found his remains, a medical examiner determined he had died by suicide. Authorities said they found writings near his remains in which he claimed responsibility for Petito’s death.

In November 2022, a Florida judge ruled in favor of Petito’s family in a wrongful death suit against Brian Laundrie’s estate, awarding $3 million to Petito’s mother as the administrator of her daughter’s estate.

In the depositions filed this week in the emotional distress lawsuit, the parents of both Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie detail what was going on behind the scenes as the case unfolded. The trial is scheduled to begin in May.

Here are the key takeaways:

‘The day everything hit the fan’

When Brian Laundrie called his mother the afternoon of August 29, 2021, their conversation largely seemed like a light-hearted catch-up, but as they began to say goodbye, her son’s tone “completely changed,” the mother said in her deposition.

“His voice was very upset and I didn’t know why,” Roberta Laundrie said. “I didn’t want to push him, so we just said goodbye. … When I got off the phone, I told Chris, you know, ‘Brian sounded upset. Maybe you should give him a call.’”

When Christopher Laundrie called Brian, his son was “frantic,” he said in his deposition. “He was not calm and he got very excited.”

Brian repeatedly told his father, “Gabby’s gone” but never said he killed Petito, Christopher Laundrie said. His son asked for help, saying he may need a lawyer. “I asked him why. He wouldn’t tell me.”

Laundrie’s father said he never thought his son killed Petito when he said she was “gone.” He said, “I had no idea what to think.”

After the conversation, Christopher Laundrie contacted the family’s attorney, Steven Bertolino, both of Laundrie’s parents said in their depositions. Later that evening, Brian Laundrie called his mother to say he was coming home to Florida, she said.

Thought that Brian killed Gabby ‘probably went through my mind,’ mother says

When asked what she thought her son meant when he said Petito was “gone,” Roberta Laundrie said several possibilities ran through her mind, including that the couple may have gotten into a fight and Petito could have been considering pressing charges.

Initially, the mother said she couldn’t recall whether she considered the possibility that Brian Laundrie could have killed Petito, saying, “I didn’t know what to think.” But she later acknowledged the thought “probably went through my mind.”

Roberta Laundrie said she liked Petito and the pair had developed a good relationship.

“As we knew each other longer and longer, we grew closer and we really cared for each other,” she said. “I cared for her. I believe she cared for me, too. She always said so.”

But when asked whether she made any attempt to contact Petito or her parents after the August 29 call, the mother said no. “I was just concerned about my son at the time and I just figured maybe her parents could come get her,” she said.

“My attorney told me not to talk to anybody, so I just didn’t talk to anybody,” Roberta Laundrie said. When Nichole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, contacted her, Laundrie did not return the calls, she said.

Petito always could “take care of herself,” the mother said.

Brian Laundrie arrived back home in Florida on September 1 with the white van he and Petito had been traveling in, but his mother didn’t ask him about what happened with Gabby, following her attorney’s advice not to talk about anything that might have happened, she said in the deposition.

“I was told not to ask, and so I just kept Brian close, kept him home and safe, and didn’t talk to him about anything and hoped for the best,” she said.

‘Burn after reading’ letter was poorly worded joke, mother says

When Brian Laundrie’s body was found in October 2021, investigators discovered an undated letter from his mother in his backpack enclosed in an envelope that said, “burn after reading,” CNN has reported.

Petito’s parents have fought to include the letter in their lawsuit against the Laundries, saying his mother “references bringing a shovel to help bury a body, and baking a cake with a shiv in it should Brian Laundrie go to prison,” court documents state.

Roberta Laundrie has long maintained she penned it before her son left for the van trip and said in her deposition she “never imagined the future” when she wrote it.

“It was a poor choice of words. When I read this later, I was like ‘This sounds awful,’” Roberta Laundrie said. “It was a jokey, stupid letter that I dashed off before he left with lots of bad jokes and poor humor. … I never imagined any of this.”

When she decided to write the note, Roberta Laundrie was under the impression Brian and Gabby were just driving up to New York, but she suspected they would be gone for much longer. She and her son had recently had an issue over his traveling, and she was disappointed they would be gone so long, so she wrote it to remind him she would always love him, the mother said.

She said she wrote “burn after reading” as a reference to a book Petito had given her son.

“I did want him to get rid of it. Not burn it, but throw it out so nobody read it. It’s an embarrassing note,” the mother said.

Laundrie’s parents ignored texts and calls from Petito’s family

As the search for Gabby Petito stretched on and garnered national attention, her family made repeated efforts to contact the Laundries, eventually making a public statement begging for them to cooperate in the investigation.

Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Schmidt, accuse Laundrie’s parents in their suit of knowing their daughter was dead and the location of her remains when the Laundries released a September 14 statement that said, “It is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful, and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.”

Petito’s parents said they made efforts to text and call Laundrie’s parents during the search for their daughter but never received any response. In their depositions, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie said they ignored the Petitos’ messages at the advice of their attorney.

Joseph Petito expressed anger in his disposition that Laundrie’s parents released the September 14 statement wishing for the girl’s safe return, even as they privately avoided her family.

“It bothered me that … they’re not trying to figure out a way to help Gabby be brought home,” Petito’s father said. “They supposedly love Gabby, but all they did was show that they didn’t give two sh*ts about her.”

CNN’s Jamiel Lynch and Jack Forrest contributed to this report.

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Brian Laundrie’s parents detail ‘the day everything hit the fan’ after their son told them Gabby Petito was ‘gone’