‘My daughter would be alive’: Gabby Petito’s mother speaks about Florida’s new Lethality Assessment

ORLANDO, Fla. — Nichole Schmidt says she thinks about what would have happened if police in Utah asked her daughter Gabby Petito more questions on August 12, 2021, just two weeks before she disappeared.


She says a lethality assessment, which will soon be required in Florida, would have saved her daughter’s life.

Pictures show Gabby had visible bruises and red marks across her face when law enforcement in Utah responded to the domestic violence call. Yet, after law enforcement questioned the couple, police believed Petito was the aggressor and separated the two for the night.

READ: Mental health experts testify to Anselmo’s psychiatric history at time of stepmom’s murder

A month later, Petito’s remains were found in Wyoming’s Bridger–Teton National Forest. Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie admitted to killing Petito in his notebook-- before he committed suicide.

Since Petito’s death, her family has advocated in Florida and other states for more law enforcement training and what’s called a lethality assessment.

Governor Ron DeSantis just signed the Lethality Assessment into law Wednesday. The assessment includes 12 questions officers must ask victims on domestic violence calls, and based on victim’s response, indicates to law enforcement whether a victim is at high risk of being harmed or even killed by their abuser in the future.

The questions include-- Did the aggressor ever use a weapon against you? Do you believe the aggressor will try to kill you? And has the aggressor ever choked you or attempted to choke you?

“I can say that if they had used a lethality assessment, I’m certain my daughter would be alive today,” Schmidt said.

“Just asking those critical questions?,” Channel 9′s Ashlyn Webb asked Schmidt.

“Yeah, in the right way and with the right training,” Schmidt replied.

READ: Report: Squatters removed from Holly Hill home, arrested after complaints from neighbors

Victims can choose not to answer the Lethality Assessment questions. However, Michelle Sperzel, CEO of Harbor House, says there are still benefits to law enforcement asking the questions.

“It’s going to start that internal dialogue as well, of how I feel about the situation? And is this a safe place for me?,” Sperzel said.

Law enforcement expert Randy Nelson agrees police in Utah should have asked more questions. However, he’s concerned the new law could put more of a burden on officers. He says an alternative could be to hire trained domestic violence experts to work alongside officers on calls.

“The problem becomes law enforcement is almost like a Swiss army knife now. Yeah, mental health, you got homelessness,” Nelson said. “You can’t expect them to be all things to all people.”

Every year since 2018, more than 200 people were killed by domestic violence, data from FDLE shows.

Advocates and victim’s families like the Petitos say, just law enforcement asking the questions and noticing the sign, could help reduce domestic violence related homicides.

“I think it would have opened up a door for her to be able to tell them what was really going on,” Schmidt said.

READ: Deputies: Man shot and killed in Orange County neighborhood

Gabby Petito’s mom says the lethality assessment is “a small piece of the puzzle.” She says there is more the Foundation in Gabby’s name is advocating for-- including more training for law enforcement.

“So many people have a Gabby in their life. A loved one, and they might not even know they’re going through something,” Schmidt said. “But that’s why it’s important to learn the signs and ask the questions and just be there for them.”

Click here to download our free news, weather and smart TV apps. And click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.

Comments on this article