Search for Gabby Petito: Family grows more desperate for answers in search for missing North Port woman

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NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) – Joseph Petito says he wants photos of his daughter Gabby Petito shared far and wide until she’s found safe.

“Every viewer that’s watching this, look at every picture you are going to see on this screen, watch the video, make her face burn into your memory,” he said in a ZOOM interview with 8 On Your Side from his home in Vero Beach.

As Petito’s parents become more desperate for answers in the search for their missing 22-year-old daughter, police in Utah have confirmed they made contact with Gabby and her boyfriend in mid-August.  

“Our officers did respond to an incident involving (the boyfriend) and Gabrielle Petito on 12 August 2021 however, neither (he) or Gabrielle were the reporting party,” Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge said in an email. “Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges.”

The chief did not provide any additional details.

For Petito and Gabby’s stepmom Tara, it is an agonizing wait of more than three weeks since he last had a FaceTime call with his only daughter on Aug. 21 while she was in Utah.

“No red flags that popped out,” Mr. Petito said of that call. “I’m trying to wrap my brain, Monday morning quarterback it, you know what I mean, still nothing is popping in my head.”

Petito and her boyfriend embarked on a cross-country road trip in a white Ford van in early July. They departed from New York and traveled west, frequently documenting their visits to national parks on YouTube and Instagram.

North Port police say the boyfriend and the van now in the possession of police made it back to Florida, but there have still been no signs of the artistic and free-spirited young woman.

Police have reached out to interview the boyfriend, but his family referred investigators to their attorney.

“I don’t know about you but their child is home,” Mr. Petito said. “My child is somewhere in the continental United States with no phone, no car. It’s not as hard on them as it is on us.”

Mr. Petito was reacting to the statement issued Tuesday by the attorney for the boyfriend’s family.

“This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and (our) family,” the statement from New York attorney Steven Bertolino said. “It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. On behalf of (our) 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 family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”

A spokesperson for Gabby’s family sent 8 On Your Side a statement saying they are urging the boyfriend to “come forward and at least tell us if we are looking in the right area.”

“The Schmidt and Petito family beg the (boyfriend’s) family to not “remain in the background” but to help find who (he) referred to as the love of his life,” the statement said. “How does (he) stay in the background when he is the one person that knows where Gabby is located?”

Mr. Petito said he knows missing person stories do not always end well. But he is grateful for the FBI, police, and everyday people who are helping with the search and he remains hopeful Gabby will come home soon.

“To me in my head right now, her phone’s dead, broke, lost taken whatever,” he said. “She’s wandering the woods and can’t find her bearing. Happens all the time and that’s what I’m going with until I’m told otherwise.”

North Port police have said so far in the investigation they have no evidence a crime occurred. This article does not identify the boyfriend because police have not named him a suspect or charged him with a crime.

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