Park ranger Melissa Hulls (pictured) branded Gabby Petito’s relationship with Brian Laundrie ‘toxic’
A Utah park ranger has revealed she warned Gabby Petito her relationship with Brian Laundrie seemed ‘toxic’ after responding to the ‘possible domestic assault’ incident involving the couple back on August 12.
Melissa Hulls, the visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park in Moab, said she was ‘imploring with [Petito] to reevaluate the relationship’ but that the 22-year-old didn’t understand ‘how big a deal this was.’
Hulls said she had responded to a call stemming from an argument between Petito and Laundrie and arrived to find the couple pulled over by a police officer inside the park.
Police bodycam footage was released last week of the encounter, showing a sobbing Petito telling officers they had ‘been fighting all morning’ before cops determined she was the ‘primary aggressor.’
The initial 911 call, released Monday, has since revealed a witness first reported seeing the ‘gentleman was slapping the girl’.
A forensic psychiatrist has also spoken out to say the footage of the August 12 incident – 13 days before Petito was last heard from alive – raises ‘red flags’ and suggests she was ‘scared’ of her boyfriend.
A body matching Petito’s description was recovered from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming Sunday, with an autopsy scheduled for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Laundrie is now missing with his parents telling cops Friday they had not seen him since last Tuesday. Photos of the couple’s impounded Ford van have also been released by North Port Police in Florida as forensic examinations continue.
A Utah park ranger has revealed she warned Gabby Petito her relationship with Brian Laundrie seemed ‘toxic’ after she responded to the ‘possible domestic assault’ incident involving the couple back on August 12. A tearful Petito is seen in the back of the police car in the footage
Laundrie is seen in police bodycam with scratches on his face which he tells an officer were caused when Petito ‘was trying to get the keys from me’ and ‘hit me with her phone’
Hulls told Deseret News the conversation she had with Petito on the scene of the domestic incident has echoed with her ever since.
‘I can still hear her voice. She wasn’t just a face on the milk carton, she was real to me,’ she said.
She said she can remember Petito sobbing in the back of the police cruiser. Cops had already arrived at the scene by the time Hulls got there.
She said that as a female ranger, she has been trained to chat with women during suspected domestic abuse call outs to try and get them to relax and open up.
‘I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been,’ Hulls said.
She told Petito that her and Laundrie’s relationship had the markings of a ‘toxic’ one.
‘I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,’ she added.
In the audio, obtained by DailyMail.com, the male caller tells a Grant County sheriff that a ‘gentleman’ in a white van with a Florida license plate had slapped a girl in the vehicle before driving away.
The man also mentions the incident had happened ‘by Moonflower’ – likely referring to the Moonflower Community Cooperative in Moab, where Laundrie and Petito stayed the night of August 11 and where they reportedly were seen having an explosive fight.
‘I’m right in the corner of Main Street by Moonflower and we are driving and I’d like to report a domestic dispute.
‘Florida with a white van – Florida license plate, white van,’ the man says before being interrupted by the officer, who asks him what he saw exactly.
‘They just drove off. They’re going towards Main Street.
‘They made a right onto Main Street from Moonflower. We drove by him, a gentleman was slapping the girl,’ the man continues.
North Port Police released images of the campervan the couple were traveling across the US in after it was seized as part of the investigation
The impounded van is covered in stickers from the different places visited by the couple during their cross-country trip
‘He was slapping her?’ the sheriff asks.
‘Yes. And then we stopped. They ran down an up the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off,’ the man says as the audio ends.
Shortly after the call, Petito and Laundrie were filmed in police bodycam footage when they were stopped by Moab Police.
In the video, an emotional Petito with tears streaming down her face tells officers she ‘was trying to get him [Laundrie] to stop telling [her] to calm down’ and admitting the couple had ‘been fighting all morning.’
The 911 call is the latest in a series of major developments in the case over the weekend.
On Sunday police found remains believed to be Petito’s at a campsite in Wyoming, just days after Laundrie ‘went missing’ from his parents’ home in North Port, Florida, where he returned upon Petito’s disappearance, using her van and refusing to talk to police.
The pair had been travelling on a cross-country trip together since July 2, when they left New York. Petito was reported missing on September 11
Hulls said that these situations are never clear cut when you’re dealing with them in the moment.
‘Sometimes you get evidence and they don’t own up to it, and they’re just lying to your face and it’s unsafe, and you know that something more is going to happen if you let them go home together. That’s a much easier decision to arrest,’ she said.
‘With this one, I just don’t think she understood how big a deal this was.’
Authorities separated the couple.
Petito went in the van, Laundrie was taken to a hotel, and a few days later, they were back on the road, headed north to Salt Lake City.
After reviewing the footage from the scene, forensic psychologist Cohen told Fox Petito ‘doesn’t just look like someone who’s having a panic attack or who’s anxious’ but instead looks ‘scared’ and ‘overwhelmed’ in the footage.
‘She looks scared. She looks very overwhelmed,’ he said.
The statement from Brian Laundrie’s attorney:
‘Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito’s absence.
‘In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focus their attention on in cases like this and the warning that ‘any statement made will be used against you’ is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance.
‘As such, on the advice of counsel Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on the matter.
‘I have been informed that the North Port, Florida police have named Brian Laundrie as a ‘person of interest’ in this matter.
‘This formality has not really changed the circumstances of Mr. Laundrie being the focus of attention of law enforcement and Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel.’
‘She was emoting so much that it was very clear that there had been an incident and there had been a problem of some kind that she was struggling with.’
Cohen said it is difficult to know ‘how extensive the fight was’ but that ‘such an imbalance of the emotional state’ between the young couple ‘does raise a red flag’.
‘What we know is that when they were pulled over by the police, [Petito]was very upset, and they were both minimizing their argument. I think that’s clear,’ he said.
‘She appears to try to blame it on her OCD, and he talks about his muddy shoes. She also says she’s under a lot of stress.’
The psychologist cast doubt on the couple’s efforts to explain away the fight as caused by Petito’s OCD, insisting that the condition is ‘not a risk factor for violence.’
‘People with OCD are not violent. OCD is not a risk factor for violence. If there was an altercation between them, certainly OCD would not be fodder for something that would lead her to hurt him,’ he said.
‘It could cause an argument. If she does have OCD… he might get upset with her, or she might get upset with him, but people with OCD are not violent.’
Instead, Cohen suggested they may have been under the influence – something he said could lead them to ‘act irrationally’.
‘They’re going on a van trip cross-country. They’re in the desert. Those are some settings in which young people tend to use substances that can make them have an altered mental state,’ he said.
‘They can feel overwhelmed. They can have a bad trip. And it could lead them to act irrationally. It could also lead them to get into an altercation.’
Concerns over the contents of the bodycam have been echoed by former ‘America’s Most Wanted’ host John Walsh who said the footage ‘terrified’ him and depicted what he felt was ‘classic domestic abuse.’
Walsh told CNN Petito appeared ‘terrorized’ in the video, adding that it was then ‘chilling’ to later hear the 911 audio.
‘I looked at it with an FBI agent friend of mine and I was terrified,’ Walsh said.
‘We looked at it and I said, ‘This girl is terrorized. This is classic domestic abuse.
‘He terrorized her not to tell the cops that he was the aggressor, he was the slapper and the puncher… She was terrified.’
Cohen told Fox he also thinks Laundrie’s parents could be in denial about the case after they prevented law enforcement from interviewing their son last week – before reporting him missing Friday and saying they hadn’t seen him in three days.
‘I think that parental instincts tend to be very strong. There’s also a parental tendency to not see the worst in one’s own children, and so when you find those two tendencies, there’s a tendency to deny that one’s child could have been involved in such a crime and to protect them at all costs,’ the psychiatrist said.
FBI agents stormed the Laundrie family’s home on Monday and removed his parents from the house while declaring the area a crime scene moments after authorities called off a search of a nearby nature reserve, saying they have ‘exhausted all avenues.’
Forensic psychologist Dr. Ziv Ezra Cohen (above) said the police bodycam of the incident shows Petito looking ‘scared’
The FBI tweeted on Monday that it ‘is executing a court-authorized search warrant today at the Laundrie residence in North Port, FL relevant to the Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito investigation.’
‘No further details can be provided since this is an active and ongoing investigation,’ the FBI added.
Steven Berolino, an attorney for the family, told ABC 7 that the family went looking for Laundrie on Wednesday.
They found his Ford Mustang, which had a police note on it demanding that the vehicle be removed from the area.
The family initially left the car there so that Brian Laundrie could drive it back, but they returned on Thursday to retrieve it, according to Bertolino.
The next day, the family filed a missing persons report.
Hulls has said she’s been unable to revisit the footage from that evening since hearing that the FBI recovered a body in Wyoming consistent with the descriptions of Petito.
‘I honestly haven’t looked at my body camera footage for that night. It’s hard to think about now because I feel like I could’ve said more to help her,’ she said.
‘It’s hard not to second-guess myself, and wish I said more, or wish I had found the right words to make her believe that she deserved more.’
According to the document, cops were called to a local business in Moab, Utah on August 12, after a witness reported seeing the couple ‘arguing over a phone’ outside their van