You can find the latest on the investigation involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie here. Download the WFLA app for breaking news push alerts and sign up for breaking news email alerts.
NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) — Gabby Petito’s family filed a lawsuit against the parents of Brian Laundrie this week, accusing the Laundrie family of knowing their son murdered 22-year-old Petito and claiming they were planning to help him leave the country.
Petito’s father, Joseph Petito, and mother, Nichole Schmidt, filed the civil lawsuit against Chris and Roberta Laundrie on Thursday, March 10, according to court documents obtained by WFLA.com. The new documents contain several bombshell allegations that were not previously mentioned by the FBI, the lead investigating agency on the Petito and Laundrie case.
According to the documents, it’s believed Petito died on Aug. 27 at the hands of Laundrie. The FBI said last month that Laundrie claimed responsibility for Petito’s death in a written journal entry that was found with his remains in Sarasota County late last year.
While a coroner determined Petito’s cause of death was homicide by manual strangulation, the civil lawsuit claims she also suffered blunt force injuries to the head and neck.
In the new lawsuit, Petito’s parents allege that Laundrie told his parents what happened “on or about” Aug. 28.
“It is believed, and therefore averred that… Brian Laundrie advised his parents, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie, that he had murdered Gabrielle Petito,” the lawsuit states. “On that same date, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie spoke with Attorney Steve Bertolino, and sent him a retainer on Sept. 2, 2021.”
The lawsuit says Laundrie sent text messages back and forth between his phone and Petito’s phone after her death “in an effort to hide the fact that she was deceased.” The suit also specifically mentions a text Laundrie allegedly sent to Schmidt on Aug. 27 that referred to Petito’s grandfather by his first name – Stan. Petito’s mother had previously said that final text message raised red flags to her because Petito never called her grandfather by his first name. The suit claims Laundrie then sent an additional text from Petito’s phone on Aug. 30 to Schmidt saying there was no service in Yosemite Park “in an effort to deceive” her into believing her daughter was still alive.
The suit then lays out some of what happened in the days after Petito’s death, before an official missing person alert went out. The Petito family says there was no contact between the two families after Brian Laundrie returned home to North Port alone driving Petito’s van on Sept. 1. It also mentions the vacation the Laundries took to Fort DeSoto Park “while Gabrielle Petito’s family was suffering.”
Once the official search for Petito was underway, before her remains were found, the lawsuit says the Laundrie family refused to respond to questions from law enforcement and Petito’s family. The suit claims Roberta Laundrie blocked Schmidt’s phone number and blocked her on Facebook around the time Petito was reported missing.
According to the documents, Petito’s parents also believe Laundrie’s parents were planning to help their son leave the United States.
“While Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt were desperately searching for information concerning their daughter, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie were keeping the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie secret, and it is believed were making arrangements for him to leave the country.”
In the lawsuit, Petito and Schmidt accuse the Laundrie family of acting “with malice or great indifference to the rights of” Petito’s family.
“Christopher and Roberta Laundrie exhibited extreme and outrageous conduct which constitutes behavior, under the circumstances, which goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the lawsuit says.
Petito and Schmidt are seeking damages of at least $100,000, according to the documents filed this week, stating that they suffered pain and mental anguish as a result of the “willfulness and maliciousness” of the Laundries.
In a statement released through their attorney Rick Stafford, Petito and Schmidt noted that “Gabby and Brian were engaged to be married and would have been part of the Laundrie family,” but said that “meant nothing” to Laundrie’s parents.
The statement, released Friday, also offers more information on why Petito’s family believes the Laundries knew about their daughter’s death on Aug. 28.
“There were multiple conversations between Brian, his parents and their lawyer Steven Bertolino before Brian left Wyoming on Aug. 30, 2021. Christopher and Roberta had multiple opportunities to disclose to Joe, Nichole or the authorities that Gabby was no longer alive and to direct them to her body,” the statement reads. “Instead, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie showed callous indifference to the suffering of Gabby’s family and compounded her family’s anguish, pain and suffering by their actions. For this, Christopher and Roberta must be held accountable.”
When asked by WFLA.com about the lawsuit, the Laundries’ attorney initially said he had “no comment.” He later sent a follow-up text message to WFLA Now’s JB Biunno.
“As I have maintained over the last several months, the Laundries have not publicly commented at my direction, which is their right under the law,” Bertolino texted. “Assuming everything the Petitos allege in their lawsuit is true, which we deny, this lawsuit does not change the fact that the Laundries had no obligation to speak to law enforcement or any third-party, including the Petito family. This fundamental legal principle renders the Petitos’ claims to be baseless under the law.”