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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The parents of Gabby Petito describe the global attention to their daughter’s disappearance case, as well as the outpouring of support for their family after the 22-year-old was found dead, as “surreal.”
“The love and support has been the driving force behind us doing [the Gabby Petito foundation,]” Nichole Schmidt said. “Without the love and support, I don’t know if we’d have the strength to keep going.”
Schmidt, the mother of Gabby Petito, joined WFLA Now for a live interview on Tuesday afternoon, along with Petito’s father Joe Petito and stepmother Tara Petito. Schmidt told WFLA Now’s J.B. Biunno the support from everyone has been amazing.
“I read all the comments, I get letters in the mail, it’s just 100 percent love, love, love,” she said. “And we need that. I’m just so glad her spirit is living on and helping people.”
Joe and Tara Petito said they feel fortunate for the amount of compassion they’ve seen in the weeks since their daughter’s death.
“To see that and feel that and read that, it’s very helpful,” Joe Petito said. “Social media, that’s sometimes talked about in a bad light, we haven’t seen that. We’ve seen it pretty positive for the most part, which is awesome. So thank you to everyone.”
“Our hearts are filled with so much love and – it’s hard to put into words, honestly,” Schmidt added. “I’m just really grateful to every single person out there that’s given us support.”
Joe Petito called the situation humbling – and said he and his family are trying to just be good people.
“We’re trying to make a difference, which I think most people would be doing,” he said. “We’re just trying to lead that charge in terms of change. To make things better. That’s what we’re trying to stay focused on.”
He also noted that staying strong together and leaning on each other has played a role in their grieving process.
“There’s six of us. We get to lean on each other. So that you have to take into account too,” he said. “We are – we converse all the time. That’s important, having that type of comradery that we have between us and that we all shared that bond.”
Since Gabby Petito’s story made its way across the world, many have asked how they can live life in honor of the 22-year-old and her legacy. Her mom said that would mean just living life to the fullest.
“Living your dream. Being kind. Just do the best that you can every day because tomorrow’s not promised,” Schmidt said.
Stepmother Tara Petito said taking pictures is another way to honor her legacy.
“Gabby loved to take pictures. So take pictures. Because sometimes you don’t know if that’s the only thing you’re going to have,” she said. “She always – every time I was with her, it was another selfie. So it’s just – I’m happy that I have those.”
Joe Petito encouraged others to follow their dreams.
“If you have a dream, try and follow it. You don’t know how much time you have and you want to make sure you enjoy every moment,” he said. “Me and Gabby used to use a phrase, ‘you think of tomorrow but you live for today.’ That’s it in a nutshell.”
As work continues with the family’s foundation, Schmidt just wants the world to remember her daughter for who she was – a free spirit.
“Remember her as the free spirit you see in her fun YouTube video,” she said. “That was who she was and who she loved to be. She loved to travel and just remember her as – I think of her now as an angel who’s touching the whole world and helping so many people. I don’t want to view her in that negative light, I only see her in a positive way now.”
In addition to being a free spirit, Tara Petito called her stepdaughter a “bright light.”
“When she would come to see us, her smile would just resonate throughout the house. We’d all just want to flock to her because she’s so beautiful as a person inside and out,” she said.
Joe Petito said his daughter loved to show people she cared and had a message for the world to remember who Gabby Petito was.
“Be respectful to others, care about others and good things will happen,” he said. “That’s what’s gotta happen. Good things will come when you’re good to people. So let’s hope we can make some good changes because Lord knows we need them.”