Moab records detail ‘domestic problem’ reported before Gabby Petito’s disappearance

The Florida woman’s fiance has been named a ‘person of interest’ in the case.

Before missing Florida woman Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito reportedly disappeared in Wyoming, she traveled through Utah with her fiance, posting photos of their road trip to social media.

One of their stops was in Moab, where they visited Arches National Park, according to pictures posted to her Instagram account on Aug. 12. The same day, Moab police on Wednesday confirmed that they investigated a reported “domestic problem” involving Petito and her fiance, Brian Laundrie.

Petito was reported missing on Saturday. She had last contacted her family around the end of August and was last seen at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming after checking out of a Salt Lake City hotel on Aug. 24.

‘Feared the worst’

According to a report that Moab police released Wednesday, officers were called Aug. 12 to the reported “domestic problem” between the couple near Moonflower Community Cooperative, a food cooperative in the city. A witness told police that it appeared the couple had been arguing over a phone near their van.

During the argument, the witness said Laundrie got in the van, Petito appeared to hit his arm, then Petito tried climbing into the driver’s window “as if (Laundrie) had locked her out and she was trying to find a way in,” the report states.

The witness acknowledged that he was not sure of what exactly happened between the couple but “feared the worst” and contacted police, the report states. By the time police arrived, the couple had left the area.

The van was later located driving about 45mph in a 15mph zone near the entrance of Arches, the report states. When an officer pulled it over, the van struck a curb before coming to a stop, according to the report.

Inside the van, Petito was “crying uncontrollably” in the passenger seat, a responding officer noted. The same officer noticed Laundrie had “minor visible scratches” on his face and “small scratches” to his right arm.

Laundrie told the officer that the reported incident happened as he was trying to separate himself from Petito during an argument. He said the couple had been traveling for about four to five months, which had “created an emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments,” the report states.

When he got in their van during the reported incident, Laundrie said Petito went to slap him, “thinking he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride,” he told police. As she went to swing, Laundrie “pushed her away to avoid the slap,” the report states.

While talking with police, the couple told officers that “they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish anyone to be charged with a crime,” an officer wrote.

“After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,” an officer wrote.

The officer suggested that the couple spend some time apart for the night. He took Laundrie to a hotel, left Petito with the van and instructed them to “take advantage of this time apart to relax their emotions.”

The incident was categorized as a report of “disorderly conduct” and the case was closed, according to the report.

‘Person of interest’

Laundrie returned to Florida on Sept. 1 — 10 days before Petito was reported missing — driving the same van in which Petito and him had been traveling, according to police in North Port, Florida, where the couple lives. The van was impounded on Saturday and processed for evidence late Tuesday, North Port police said in a news release.

North Port police consider Laundrie a “person of interest” in Petito’s disappearance, the release stated. Police there are working with the FBI as they investigate. Laundrie has not made himself available to interviews with investigators and has not “provided any helpful details,” according to the release.

During their cross-country trip, the couple also visited Canyonlands National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park in Utah before making their way to Arches, according to Petito’s Instagram account, @gabspetito.

Petito’s last post to Instagram was taken outside of an art studio called The Monarch in Ogden. The post, dated Aug. 25, featured a photo of her posing in front of a mural on the building.

“We are thoroughly examining our security footage from the date of her post for any helpful information,” The Monarch said Tuesday in a Facebook post.

Monarch employees did not immediately respond to questions about what, if anything, was found on surveillance footage.

North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison on Wednesday asked Laundrie to come forward.

“As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby’s family is going through,” he said in a statement. “We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks. … The answers will eventually come out. We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved in her disappearance.”

Laundrie and his parents are “remaining in the background at this juncture ... on the advice of counsel,” according to a statement their lawyer issued. “It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.”

Other than expressing the hope that Petito will be found, the Laundries “will have no further comment,” according to the statement.

— Tribune reporter Jordan Miller contributed to this report.