Melissa Hulls, a visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park, said she told “van-life” blogger Ms Petito, 22, that the relationship appeared “toxic” after she found her sobbing in the back of a police vehicle.
The FBI said on Sunday that a body discovered over the weekend at a Wyoming national park was “consistent with the description” of Ms Petito - months after the couple set out on a cross-country road trip. Investigators have called Mr Laundrie, 23, a “person of interest” in the case.
Ms Hulls told Deseret News she approached Ms Petito on 12 August after the couple were pulled over by a police officer inside the park.
“I was asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” Ms Hulls said.
“She had a lot of anxiety about being away from him, I honestly thought if anything was going to change it would be after they got home to Florida.”
Prior to Ms Hulls’ interaction with Ms Petito, a 911 caller had reported seeing a man “slapping” a girl in the face, according to audio released by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and obtained by Fox News. The audio of the call portrays Mr Laundrie as the aggressor in the incident.
Police did not file charges and Mr Laundrie was sent to a hotel for the night, while Ms Petito stayed in the van. The incident was later classified by police as a “mental/emotional health break”.
“This wasn’t a good day for anybody. We thought we were making the right decision when we left them,” Ms Hulls continued.
“I wouldn’t have called (the relationship) unsafe. If we had any reason to think any one of them was in danger, we would’ve separated them.”
In body cam footage shared by the Moab City Police Department, Ms Petito is heard telling an officer: “I just quit my job to travel across the country, and I’m trying to start a blog, a travel blog, so I’ve been building my website.
“I’ve been really stressed, and he doesn’t really believe that I can do any of it... so that’s kind of been like... he’s like a downer.”
Ms Hulls said she had also worn a body camera but had decided not to look over the footage.
“It’s hard not to second-guess myself, and wish I said more, or wish I had found the right words to make her believe that she deserved more,” she added.
Ms Petito was reported missing by her family on September 11 after her and Mr Laundrie returned from their trip alone at the beginning of the month.
She was last heard from at the end of August - weeks after having an argument with Mr Laundrie that resulted in police being called.
Ms Petito was an aspiring blogger who grew up on Long Island, New York, where she met Mr Laundrie. She had set off with him on a cross-country trip in July, documenting the journey and the pair’s lives as they travelled.