“I felt safe because she was with Brian, and I felt like she would be OK,” Ms Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, told 60 Minutes Australia. “I thought he would take care of her.”
The distraught parents also remembered Mr Laundrie as a “quiet” and “polite” young man who was kind to their kids, and even read books to their youngest child.
“He just seemed like a nice guy,” Ms Schmidt recalled.
Last month, Ms Petito was found dead in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where she and Mr Laundrie had been travelling in their van. A coroner said the cause of death was strangulation.
Brian Laundrie remains a person of interest in the case, although he has not been charged with killing her. He has been charged, however, with fraudulently using Ms Petito’s debit card, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. For the past month, police and the FBI have searched for him at the T Mabry Carlton Jr Memorial Reserve in Sarasota, but without any luck so far.
Through their lawyer, Steve Bertolino, the Laundries have denied that their son had anything to do with Ms Petito’s death.
“While Brian Laundrie is currently charged with the unauthorized use of a debit card belonging to Gabby, Brian is only considered a person of interest in relation to Gabby Petito’s demise,” Mr Bertolino said in a statement. “At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the pending fraud charge against him.”
In the 60 Minutes interview, Ms Schmidt also described her agony at watching a Utah police video of her daughter crying after a physical fight with Mr Laundrie, just a month into their trip. Ms Petito told the officers that they had been hitting each other, and that Mr Laundrie had roughly grabbed her face.
“It’s just hard to watch,” Ms Schmidt said of the bodycam footage. “I wanted to jump through the screen and rescue her, and it’s a shame that it ended the way it did.”
The Schmidts also described the agony of finding out Ms Petito was missing, then that she was dead, and finally that the cause of death was strangulation.
“This was evil,” Ms Schmidt said.
Ms Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, also grew emotional.
“Gabby was 22 years old,” he said through tears. “Her life was stolen from her. She was stolen from us.”
The Independent has reached out to the Laundrie family’s lawyer, Mr Bertolino, for comment.