The search for Gabby Petito is narrowing after a witness came forward to say she saw the missing YouTuber’s van on the day she was last heard from.
Shannon Baker says she and her husband Russell spotted the distinctive Ford Transit Van in a parking area near Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming at about 5pm on 25 August.
The sighting is being welcomed by the Petito family and investigators as potentially crucial to locating the missing YouTuber.
The nationwide search has been “hindered” by Ms Petito’s boyfriend Brian Laundrie’s refusal to cooperate with law enforcement or offer any information on where she might be. He has been named a “person of interest” in the case.
The Bakers are travelling the United States after Russell was diagnosed with cancer, and recall the park being crowded as it was the National Park Services Birthday and entry was free.
Despite the large number or sightseers, Ms Baker said she was “sure” it was the same vehicle.
“We drove through the Tetons and the only stop we made was at Jenny Lake,” Ms Baker told KSLTV.
“It had the black ladder on the back and the two black rooftops on top, the two bars, and we made the comment that would be the perfect little camper van to go around in.”
“My husband looked at it and goes ‘that’s the same vehicle they use on (the TV show) American Pickers,’” Baker said of the white van, which had been converted into a ‘van-life’ vehicle.
It was only when they saw news reports of Ms Petito’s disappearance on Sunday that they realised the significance of what they’d seen and notified authorities.
“I said, ‘Oh my god! That’s the same van we saw,’” Ms Baker said.
Ms Petito’s mother Nichole Schmidt told KSLTV she was certain the sighting was her daughter’s van.
“They remembered commenting on how cute it was. They liked the way it looked and it was a good size. They were very detailed about their description, so I do believe they saw the van on the 25th.”
Ms Schmidt last heard from her daughter on either 24 or 25 August, and believes a text message sent from Ms Petito’s phone on 30 August was a fake.
Teton County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Clayton Platt said the van sightings could prove critical to honing their search area of the vast 310,000 acre national park.
“All those little pieces can be little pieces of the puzzle to help us figure out where Gabby is,” Mr Platt said.
More witnesses are reportedly coming forward to say they’d seen the van that day.
“I can’t give you any specifics on areas of interest but we are certainly following up on all leads that we receive,” Mr Platt told KSLTV.
Members of Ms Petito’s family including her stepfather Jim Schmidt have travelled to Wyoming to assist with the search.
News of the sighting was shared on the Find Gabby Facebook page.
“The family is very thankful for the support we are receiving from the media,” the page administrator said.
Mr Laundrie’s family have hired an attorney and have declined to give any information to police or the Petito family.
On Thursday, Ms Petito’s parents begged for Mr Laundrie’s parents Christopher and Roberta to tell them what they know.
“Every day that this goes on, they get more and more devastated,” their lawyer Richard Stafford said.
“They’re at the point that that desperation has turned to anger. They know that the Laundries know where their daughter is, and they will not tell them. That’s infuriating.”