Story Time

A ‘Van Life’ Couple Went On a Cross Country Trip, but Only One Returned

A van life couple went on a crosscountry trip, but only one returned. This undated photo provided by the Northport Florida Police Department shows Gabrielle Gabby Potato. Potato, 22, vanished while on a crosscountry country trip in a converted camper van with her boyfriend. A Florida man has been declared a person of interest in the disappearance of his fiancee, who left with him in July in a van outfitted for a crosscountry adventure and was recently reported missing by her parents, the police said on Wednesday. The couple, Gabrielle Petito, 22, and Brian Laundry, 23, left New York on July 2 for what was supposed to be a four month crosscountry trip visiting and camping in national parks, and Potato’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt.

Now back to the story Laundry posted on Instagram that they were downsizing our life into this IttyBitty van. Potato posted that converting a Ford Transit into a camper was an adventure in itself. The van was outfitted with a bed, tiny bookcases and a small wooden counter to prepare food and decorated with plants, small pieces of art and photos. But something apparently went wrong after their stop in Utah, her family says. On August 12, the police in Moab, Utah, responded to a report of a domestic problem after Laundry had some sort of argument with Potato and told her to take a walk and calm down, according to a police report. She didn’t want to be separated from him and began slapping him, and he grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him in the van, the report States. He then tried to lock her out of the van, but she managed to get in the driver’s side door and climb over him before the van took off. Laundry and Potato both told the police that they were in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.

Laundry told one officer that issues between the two had been building over the last few days, causing them to argue more. During their most recent argument, he said Potato had gone into a manic state and was afraid that he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride and went to slap him as she went to swing. He pushed her away, according to the report. Both told the police that the episode should be classified as a mental emotional health break rather than as a domestic assault. The police arranged for Laundry to stay in a hotel that night and let Petito keep the van. No charges were filed, the report States. Laundry returned to his house in Northport Florida near Fort Myers on September 1, and Potato’s family reported her missing ten days later, according to the Northport Police Department. Since his return, Laundry has declined to talk to the police or to cooperate with investigators, said Josh Taylor, a spokesman for the Department, which is working with the FBI to find Potato. We don’t know what Brian knows, Taylor told reporters Wednesday. That’s the bottom line, and we’re hopeful to talk to him. He needs to talk to us.

Laundry returned in the white Ford van that the couple had used for the trip and that had been registered to Potato, Taylor said. The van was seized by the police and has been processed for evidence, he said. Taylor said the police wanted Laundry to tell them when and where he last saw Potato. Laundry has not been arrested or declared a suspect in the case. A person of interest is a vague term often used by law enforcement agencies to identify a person they believe may have been involved in a crime but who has not been arrested. Laundry was described as a person of interest because he was the last person known to have been with Potito before she went missing, Taylor said. Taylor said that on Saturday, investigators went to Laundry’s home, where he lived with Potato and his parents. Laundry’s family told the investigators to call their lawyer, Taylor said. On Wednesday, Steven Bertolino, a lawyer for Laundry in East Icelandic, New York, said in a statement that he had advised Laundry not to speak with authorities because in his experience, intimate partners are often the first people law enforcement focuses their attention on. In cases like this, the warning that any statement made will be used against you is true regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Potato’s disappearance, Bertolino said.

He described the designation of Person of Interest as a formality and would not change his advice to Laundry to remain silent. In an earlier statement, Bertolino said that Laundry’s family hopes the search for Ms. Potato is successful and that Ms. Petito is reunited with her family. This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Potato family and the Laundry family, Bertolino said. Schmidt said that Potatoes family on Long Island had not heard from Laundry since he returned. Schmidt said that he and Potato’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, last saw the couple in July. The couple had stayed briefly with them on Long Island so they could attend the high school graduation of Petito’s brother, Jim Schmidt said the last time that he and his wife heard from Potito was around August 23, when she said she and Laundry were leaving Utah and driving to Grand Titan National Park in Wyoming. The last post on her Instagram account is dated two days later. From everything we saw in the photos and the videos and when we spoke to her, they were having the time of their lives, said Jim Schmidt, who went to Wyoming on Tuesday night to make contact with authorities who were searching for Potato.

Her father, Joseph Petito, who had moved to Florida to be closer to his daughter, is staying in touch with authorities there. Schmidt said it’s a parent’s worst nightmare. He said. The couple documented the trip in photos on Instagram and in an eight minute long video that they posted on YouTube on August 19. The video, titled Van Life, showed them kissing scaling rocks and laughing over how the hot Utah Sun had melted the chocolate in Laundry’s Granola. I love the van, Patito said, beaming at Laundry potato, the oldest of six siblings, had been working as a pharmacy technician to save money for the trip. She met Laundry at Bayport Bluepoint High School on Long Island, Jim Schmidt said. They began dating after graduation and moved two years ago to Florida, he said. In a statement. Todd Garrison, the Northport police chief, said the Department was pleading with Laundry and anyone else with information to help the police. He added the answers will eventually come out.