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NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) — The disappearance and death of a 22-year-old North Port woman captured attention from all over the globe earlier this year, and new search data from Google shows just how widespread her story was.
Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie left for a cross-country road trip out west toward the beginning of the summer. Laundrie returned home to North Port by himself on Sept. 1, according to police. Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11 by concerned family members who hadn’t been able to get in touch with her and, according to their attorney, were not getting answers from the Laundrie family.
The missing person alert sent out on Sept. 11 was the beginning of a months-long chain of events that included a search for Petito, the discovery of her body in Wyoming and an autopsy that revealed she had been strangled to death. In the midst of that happening, Laundrie was named a person of interest in her disappearance and then went missing himself. His remains were found in a Sarasota County nature reserve in October. A medical examiner later determined he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The search for Petito, and the later search for Laundrie, garnered attention throughout the United States – and across the world – as millions of people sought out answers. According to year-end search data for Google, both Petito and Laundrie were among the top searches of 2021.
Google Trends released its “Year in Search” data this week. It shows Gabby Petito was the No. 3 search overall in the United States in 2021, while Brian Laundrie took the No. 5 spot.
In its “passings” category, Google data shows Gabby Petito was the No. 2 search and Brian Laundrie was No. 3 in the United States. DMX took the No. 1 spot while Prince Philip and Norm Macdonald were No. 4 and No. 5, respectively.
Additional data shows “Brian Laundrie update” was the third-most searched for among “updates” in the U.S. while “Gabby Petito update” was No. 4.
Beyond just the United States, Petito and Laundrie were also among the top searches in certain global categories, according to Google. Trends data shows Gabby Petito was the No. 2 search in “passings” globally while Brian Laundrie was No. 5.
According to Google Trends, the top search lists of the year are “based on search terms that had the highest spike this year as compared to the previous year.”
In an exclusive interview with WFLA Now’s J.B. Biunno last month, Petito’s family described the attention to their daughter’s case, and the outpouring of support, as “surreal.” They’ve now used that attention and support to create The Gabby Petito Foundation in hopes of helping others.
“Social media, that’s sometimes talked about in a bad light, we haven’t seen that,” her father Joe Petito said. “We’ve seen it pretty positive for the most part, which is awesome. So thank you to everyone.”
Her mother, Nichole Schmidt, said the amount of love and support they’ve been shown has been hard to put into words.
“The love and support has been the driving force behind us doing [the Gabby Petito foundation,]” Schmidt said. “Without the love and support, I don’t know if we’d have the strength to keep going.”