MOAB, Utah — The family of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old travel blogger who was killed last year by her fiancé during a cross-country road trip, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against police in Moab, saying that they failed to recognize telltale signs of domestic abuse in interactions with the couple two weeks before Petito’s death.
Authorities found Petito’s remains in a remote part of Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest in September 2021. Officials said Brian Laundrie confessed to having killed Petito in a notebook found after he took his own life weeks later in Florida.
In the lawsuit, the family alleged “that if the Moab police had followed the requirements of the Utah law, the Utah statutes on domestic violence, Gabby would still be alive today,” attorney Jim McConkie said at a news conference.
“The family would like me to emphasize that the purpose of this lawsuit is to honor Gabby’s memory by demanding accountability and working for change in the system to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future,” he said. “Intimate partner violence and domestic violence is an insidious problem in our society because the signs and the symptoms, to a lay person, don’t seem threatening, and they’re often hidden, and they go unrecognized. All these signs and symptoms were present when the police interviewed Gabby and Mr. Laundrie in Moab.”
In a statement obtained by KSTU-TV, city officials called Petito’s death a “terrible tragedy” but they added that police were not responsible for her murder.
“The attorneys for the Petito family seem to suggest that somehow our officers could see into the future based on this single interaction,” officials said, according to KSTU. “In truth, on Aug. 12, no one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the City of Moab will ardently defend against this lawsuit.”
Petito’s family accused officers of ignoring obvious signs that Petito had been abused after a witness called 911 to report that Laundrie hit Gabby two weeks before her death.
Police previously released footage taken from a body camera showing officers talking to Petito and Laundrie near Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. Officers determined that there had been a squabble between the two and that Petito had been the aggressor. The Petito family said this determination came despite scratches on Petito’s face and information given to police about controlling, aggressive behavior on Laundrie’s part.
The family is asking for a jury trial and $50 million in damages.
Investigators named Laundrie a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance and, after her remains were discovered, in her death. A medical examiner determined that she died of manual strangulation.
Authorities found Laundrie’s remains in a Florida nature reserve in October 2021.
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