The distraught mother of murdered Gabby Petito dabbed tears from her eyes in a courtroom today as she listened to her lawyer blast the actions of killer Brian Laundrie’s parents as ‘callous and shameful’.
Nicole Schmidt, 41, also toyed nervously with a necklace as she sat with former husband Joseph Petito, 42, the father of the adventurous 21-year-old who was strangled on a van-life road trip with Laundrie in Wyoming last summer.
The devastated mother and father are suing Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, alleging they knew their son had murdered Gabby after he returned to their Florida home alone – and tried to help him flee authorities.
Nicole Schmidt (left) and Joseph Petito (right) were in court on Wednesday afternoon for a hearing on the lawsuit they filed against Roberta and Christopher Laundrie
Christopher and Roberta Laundrie allegedly knew their son killed Petito and took him on vacation. The pair remained silent during the search for Petito
Nichole Schmidt and Joseph Petito are suing Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, alleging they knew their son Brian (right) had murdered Gabby (left) after he returned to their Florida home alone – and tried to help him flee authorities
They claim the Laundries are guilty of ‘inflicting intentional emotional distress’ and that a statement issued by their lawyer hopeful of a successful end to the search for then-missing Gabby was ‘outrageous’ because they allegedly already knew she was dead.
Their attorney Patrick Reilly told Sarasota County Court, Florida: ‘This is case not simply about the silence of Robert and Christopher Laundrie who knew their son had brutally murdered Gabby Petito.’
He said it also wasn’t about their ‘callous refusal despite pleas from the Petito family’ to speak out about whether not Gabby was alive – or if she wasn’t the location of her body.
‘It’s about a course of conduct that they committed from when they learned on August 28, 2021 that their son had brutally murdered Gabby Petito,’ he said.
Reilly said this included the statement that was made by the attorney advising them at the time, Steve Bertolino, regarding their wish for a successful end to the search.
Judge Hunter W. Carroll asked what duty did Christopher, 63, and Roberta, 56, have to do ‘anything to help’ Gabby’s parents.
‘It’s about what they did with the information that they had,’ Reilly replied. ‘Not just not disclosing what they knew.’
He added the Laundries could have made an anonymous phone call to reveal the location of Gabby’s body. The lawyer said they knew Gabby’s parents were ‘desperately searching’ for information.
The hearing was to consider the Laundries’ motion to dismiss the case. After hearing pleas from both sides, Judge Carroll said he hoped to issue a written decision in two weeks. If he dismisses the motion, the Laundries could face a jury trial next year.
It is the first time Gabby’s parents have had an opportunity to be in a court over the tragic death of their daughter. Laundrie shot himself after fleeing to a Florida swamp, denying them legal justice.
However, the hearing continued the couple’s pain as they had to listen to arguments. Both sets of parents had been friendly before Gabby went missing, the court was told.
The Laundries are accused of taking son Brian to Fort De Soto Park just days before Petito was reported missing
Gabby’s remains were eventually discovered on September 19, 2021, in lonely spot in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
She and boyfriend Brian, 23, had lived with his parents in North Port, near Florida’s west coast. The young couple set off on an adventure from New York State – where her mother lives – in early July, heading West.
However, on September 1, Brian arrived back at the Laundrie home on his own in Gabby’s white Ford van. Ten days later anxious Schmidt reported her daughter missing after last having contact in a phone call on August 25.
Hours after Gabby’s mom raised the alarm, North Port Police hauled the white van off the Laundrie’s driveway and took it off for forensic examination.
Officers asked to speak to Brian at the house, but were told by his parents he wasn’t available. It is not known if the killer was inside at the time.
Laundrie then went missing in the 25,000-acre alligator infested Carlton Reserve near his home, sparking a massive hunt involving local police, the FBI and at least two sheriff’s departments.
His parents initially told police he vanished on September 14 to go hiking in the reserve, but later changed this to a day earlier. His body was eventually found in the swamp on October 20 after his parents broke cover and joined law enforcement there.
A notebook found with him included a confession that he had murdered Gabby.
When Gabby was missing, attorney Bertolino issued a statement saying: ‘On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.’
Attorney Reilly attacked that statement as a ‘lie’, alleging it was said to give ‘false hope’ to Gabby’s parents that she may be still alive. He added they knew the ‘fragile and emotional state’ of the parents at the time – and that it was ‘callous and shameful’.
He added: ‘I guess it is OK to kick someone when they are down, according to the Laundries.’
Reilly alleged the only reason attorney Bertolino wasn’t an additional defendant in the case was because he is not a citizen of the State of Florida.
Matt Luka, attorney in court for the Laundries, spent a long time arguing the law in relation to remaining silent. He said remaining silent did not constitute inflicting emotional distress.
He added that the plaintiffs argued the Laundries had a duty to speak but ‘the law imposes no such obligation to speak’.
Luka continued: ‘Even if Brian Laundrie conveyed information to his parents they did not have a requirement to speak out.’
In the Laundries’ motion to dismiss paperwork, attorney Luka writes their ‘inaction was not outrageous but legal permissible and constitutionally protected’.
Laundrie’s remains were found north of the entrance to Myakkahatchee Creek, in the Big Slough Preserve, off an unpaved trail near a bridge where Brian’s parents said he liked to visit. It is four miles north of their home in North Port, Florida
‘The amended complaint alleges that the Laundries failed to have any contact with the Plaintiffs when the Plaintiffs wanted the Laundries to speak or otherwise communicate’ with them, the motion continues.
The lawyer adds: ‘That allegation falls so far below the ‘particularly high’ standard for outrageous conduct that the Amended Complaint should never have been filed.’
He said the Laundries – who have never faced any criminal charges over the tragedy – are entitled to exercise their legal rights. ‘There is no requirement that an individual face a formal criminal investigation in order to remain silent,’ the lawyer added.
Luka said the statement issued on behalf of the Laundries was ‘benign’ and did not alter their right to remain silent. ‘Remaining silent and speaking through an attorney are fundamental rights,’ he added.
In Gabby’s parents response to the Laundries’ motion to dismiss the case, their attorneys write: ‘It is believed and therefore averred that on or about August 28, 2021, Brian Laundrie advised his parents Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie that he had murdered Gabrielle Petito.
‘On that same date, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie spoke with Attorney Steve Bertolino and sent him a retainer on September 2, 2021.
Gabby’s remains were eventually discovered on September 19, 2021, in lonely spot in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. She and boyfriend Brian, 23, had lived with his parents in North Port, near Florida’s west coast. The young couple set off on an adventure from New York State – where her mother lives – in early July, heading West
‘After this point in time, there was no contact between Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt on the one hand, and Christopher Laundrie and Roberta on the other.’
They say from August 27 to September 19 ‘when Gabrielle Petito’s remains were found at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area’ that Gabby’s parents were extremely distraught and trying to locate her.
‘While Gabrielle Petito’s family was suffering, the Laundrie family went on vacation to Fort DeSoto Park on September 6-7, 2021. They went on vacation knowing that Brian Laundrie murdered Gabrielle Petito, it is believed they knew where her body was located.
‘In an effort to avoid any contact with Nichole Schmidt, on or about September 10, 2021, Roberta Laundrie blocked Nichole Schmidt on her cellular phone such that neither phone nor texts could be delivered, and she blocked her on Facebook.’
They add that ‘with full knowledge’ that Gabby ‘had been murdered by their son’ they issued the statement through their lawyer Bertolino.
‘For the Laundries to express their ‘hope’ that Gabrielle Pet was located and reunited with her family, at a time when they knew she had been murdered by their son, was beyond outrageous,’ they write.
Timeline of missing Gabby Petito’s case
July 1: Gabby Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie left Blue Point, New York for a cross-country road trip
August 12: Police in Moab, Utah respond to a domestic incident involving the couple
Aug. 17: Laundrie allegedly flies back to Florida to ‘clear out a storage unit’
Aug. 21: Petito’s father, Joseph Petito, has his last FaceTime video call with his daughter who was in Salt Lake City, Utah
Aug. 23: Laundrie flies back to Utah to ‘rejoin Gabby’ on their trip
Aug. 24: Petito is last seen at a hotel in Salt Lake City with Laundrie
Aug. 25: Petito makes final call to her mother, Nichole Schmidt, saying she was in Grand Teton National Park
Aug. 25 or 26: The couple chats with the owner of a shop called ‘Rustic Row’ in Victor, Utah for about 20 minutes
Aug. 27: Video of Petito’s van was taken by blogger Jenn Bethune around 6.30 pm at the Spread Creek Campground; Witnesses say they saw a ‘commotion’ with the couple at Merry Piglets Tex-mex restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming
Aug. 29: The day that Wisconsin TikToker Miranda Baker claimed that she and her boyfriend were approached by Laundrie at Grand Teton National Park and asked them for a ride at 5.30pm
Aug. 30: Schmidt receives the last text from Petito’s phone: ‘No service in Yosemite’
Sept. 1: Laundrie returns to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida in a van without Petito
Sept. 6-7: Laundrie and his parents visit Fort De Soto campsite in Florida
Sept. 11: Schmidt reports Petito missing to authorities in New York; Petito and Laundrie’s van was impounded by police in Florida that same day
Sept. 12: Grand Teton National Park rangers search for Petito
Sept. 13: Laundrie’s lawyer says on October 5 that his parents now ‘believe’ this was the day they last saw him heading for a hike
Sept. 14: Laundrie issues a statement about Petito’s disappearance through his lawyer; Laundrie’s parents claim on September 17 that Laundrie left his parents’ home for a hike this day and they hadn’t seen from him since
Sept. 15: Laundrie is officially named a person of interest in Petito’s case
Sept. 17: Laundrie family attorney confirms his whereabouts are unknown
Sept. 18: North Port police and the FBI start searching the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County for missing Brian Laundrie
Sept. 19: Bethune realizes she has video of Petito’s van around 12am and submits the FBI with the footage 10 minutes later; Officials announce a body was found near Grand Teton National Park that matched Petito’s description in the afternoon
Sept. 21: Coroner confirms remains found in Grand Tetons belong to Petito. Her death is ruled a homicide but her cause of death is still under invesetigation
Sept. 20 – 22: FBI and North Port police continue search for Laundrie in Carton Reserve
Sept. 22: Neighbors say they saw the Laudrie family pack up their detached camper on the day Gabby was reported missing. DailyMail.com photos show the camper was back in the driveway two days later, on September 13
Sept. 23: FBI issues an arrest warrant for Laundrie for ‘use of unauthorized access device’ for fraudulently using a Capitol One Bank debit card that was not his between August 30 and September 1 to spend $1,000; A probe is launched into the police handling of the Utah police incident on Aug. 12; Laundrie’s parents visit their attorney in Orlando
Sept. 25: Dog the Bounty Hunter joins the search for Laundrie
Sept. 26: A funeral is held for Petito in Holbrook, New York, and her family launch a charity to help parents find missing children
Sept. 27: Manhunt for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve is scaled back after 10 day search doesn’t find him. Dog the Bounty Hunter says Laundrie and his parents stayed at Fort De Soto Park from September 1-3 and September 6-8 – and that on the latter visit only the parents left
Sept. 28: Laundrie’s mom is accused of using a burner phone to contact her son Sept. 29: Documents reveal Laundrie’s mom canceled a reservation for the Fort De Soto Park campsite for two from September 1 to 3 and booked for three from September 6 to 8; FBI seizes surveillance footage from site; FBI investigates lead Laundrie bought a burner phone on September 14;
Sept. 30: Bodycam footage from a second officer at the August 12 incident is released showing a distressed Petito admitting Laundrie hit her; FBI agents collect more evidence from the Laundrie home
Oct. 1: It emerges Laundrie’s sister had contact with him after she said she did
Oct. 2: A hiker along the Appalachian Trail claims to have seen Laundrie near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina
Oct. 3: Investigators searched the area on the Appalachian trail for any signs that Laundrie had been there
Oct. 4: Laundrie’s sister told protestors outside her home that her family has been ignoring her after they rebuked her story and that she does not know where her brother is
Oct 5: Laundrie’s sister appeared on Good Morning America to say she would turn her brother in if she knew where he is;
Oct. 7: Laundrie’s father Christopher joins FBI agents on the search for his son at the Carlton Reserve but the search brings up no clues
Oct. 12: Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announces autopsy findings which show Petito died by strangulation; No specific date of death was given – only that she was dead 3-4 weeks before her body was found
Oct. 16: Petito’s parents are seen collecting her ashes from the Valley Mortuary in Jackson, Wyoming
October 20: Human remains found in Carlton Reserve
October 21: FBI confirm the body found belongs to Brian Laundrie. A notebook, backpack and dry bag are also found near the body