‘Her nature was always to smile’: Gabby Petito’s father leads funeral tributes

Holbrook, New York: Lines of mourners paid their respects Sunday for Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old whose death on a cross-country trip has sparked a manhunt for her boyfriend.

Among those who congregated in Holbrook, about 56 kilometreseast of New York City, were family members, friends, co-workers and people who were touched by Petito’s story even though they didn’t know her.

“I don’t want you guys to be sad,” her father, Joseph Petito, said during a memorial at Moloney Holbrook Funeral Home. “Gabby didn’t live that way … people gravitated toward her. Her nature was always to smile.”

A poster of homicide victim Gabby Petito near the funeral home where she was remembered. Credit:AP

He said his daughter should inspire people to grab life’s opportunities.

“If there is a trip you guys want to take, take it now, do it now while you’ve got the time,” he said. “If there is a relationship that you are in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it. Now. We got more emails from men and women doing that, taking care of themselves first.”

Mourners stifled sobs as they walked through the procession while her family and friends sat in the middle of the room, sometimes leaning over to embrace visitors.

Gabby Petito’s stepfather Jim Schmidt, left, exits Moloney’s Funeral Home.Credit:AP

Video and poster boards showed montages of Gabby in family photos, growing up through the years. One image showed her wearing a firefighter’s helmet from Blue Point Fire Department No. 2, while others captured a happy girl making silly faces along with the now-famous photo of her standing in front of angel wings.

Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, said her enthusiasm helped remind him there is more to life than work.

“Gabby at 22 years old helped teach me you can always make money but you can’t make up for lost time,” said Schmidt, a former Blue Point fire chief. “She is an example for all of us to live by, to enjoy every moment of this beautiful world as she did, love and give love to all like she did.”

“She was a beautiful soul; she was full of life, always smiling,” said Desiree Keeffe, a friend of Petito’s mother, Nichole. “She gave you love. She was just a beautiful soul. She touched everybody like she did now.”

A woman wipes her tears after attending the funeral service of Gabby Petito at Moloney’s Funeral Home in Holbrook, New YorkCredit:AP

Two fire trucks were positioned one on either side of the funeral home, each with its ladder extended, and a line of firefighters was seen filing into the building. Across the street, a chain link fence was adorned with posters featuring Petito’s image and messages such as “She touched the world”.

Petito was reported missing on September 11 by her parents after she didn’t respond to calls and texts for several days while she and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie visited parks in the West.

Her body was discovered last Sunday in a remote area in northwestern Wyoming. Laundrie and Petito grew up on Long Island but in recent years moved to Florida.

Lexi Ruiz recalled working with Petito at a cafe in nearby Patchogue that Ruiz managed.

“She was always willing to help someone else,” Ruiz said. “She was just such a light. Anywhere she went the room lit up. It’s nice to see so many people come together and support her family.”

Inside the funeral home, dozens of floral arrangements and childhood photos of Petito lined the walls, some capturing her travels. One floral arrangement sent from Norwalk, Connecticut, read “I don’t know you but your story broke me”.

Mourners were greeted with a placard bearing a poem titled “Let it Be” that began with the line, “Do not grieve for me for I am free.”

Petito’s death has been classified as homicide, meaning she was killed by another person, but medical examiners in Wyoming haven’t disclosed how she died pending further autopsy results.

A still taken from a police camera video shows Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talking to a police officer after the van she was travelling in with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie was pulled over near Arches National Park on August 12, 2021.Credit:The Moab Police Department via AP

The couple posted online about their trip in a white Ford Transit van converted into a camper. They got into a fight on August 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop for a possible domestic violence case. Ultimately, police decided to separate the quarreling couple for the night, but no charges were filed and no serious injuries were reported.

Investigators have been searching for Laundrie in Florida swaplands behind his parents’ home in North Port.

On Thursday, federal officials in Wyoming charged Laundrie with unauthorised use of a debit card, alleging he used a Capital One Bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorised withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing. They did not say who the card belonged to.

AP, McClatchy

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