The idyllic viral video has struck a chord around the world: A lovely young couple on a cross-country trek together, eating granola and yogurt breakfasts, doing cartwheels on the beach, and kissing under the big sky of the West.
But behind the video is a story full of mystery, a young couple's battle with their mental health woes and – possibly – a tragedy.
Police in three states say 22-year-old Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito disappeared Aug. 30, last seen in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, is being called a person of interest in the case after he drove back to the couple's primary residence in Florida on Sept. 1 without her.
The past few days have seen a flurry of activity in the case: A plea from Petito's father for details on what happened to his daughter, body camera footage from Moab, Utah, police showing the couple trying to work out a manic episode in the desert, and police reports revealing simmering difficulties between the two over their intensifying closeness on the cross-country trip.
Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts on Long Island before moving from Blue Point, New York, in 2019 to live with his parents in North Port, Florida.
Police in North Port are the lead agency investigating the case. No charges have been filed and Petito's whereabouts remain unknown. The bits and fragments of social media postings and police video of the couple are among the few clues to emerge so far in the case.
"He doesn't really believe that I can do any of this ... We've just been fighting all morning," a tearful Petito says under the intense sun shining on the side of a Utah highway near Arches National Park, where she spoke with a police officer investigating a fight between the two. The August video of the officer's bodycam footage has been released to the public and offers a glimpse of the couple's troubles, about two weeks before her disappearance.
Gabby Petito timeline: From a road trip with Brian Laundrie to a missing persons investigation
She told an officer that she suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder that affects her behavior.
“Yeah, I don’t know, it’s just some days, I have really bad OCD, and I was just cleaning and straightening up, and I was apologizing to him saying that I’m so mean because sometimes I have OCD and get frustrated,” she said in police video footage.
A Moab police report reflects how officers sensitively tried to work with the couple who, in separate interviews with the officers, described how life wasn't easy on the road for them.
"Gabrielle, who was in the passenger seat, was crying uncontrollably," an officer wrote in the Aug. 13 report. Officers wrote that the couple – while battling self-described mental health issues that led to Petito slapping Laundrie – were intelligently and sensitively trying to work out their issues.
Laundrie told the officer that he and Petito both suffered from the same mental health problem, although the specific problem's name was redacted in the report. He told the investigating officer that Petito had "more advanced" issues than his own, and that friction had been building between them for several days. Neither took medication for their condition, Laundrie told the officer.
"Brian explained he and Gabrielle have been traveling together for the last four or five months," the officer wrote. "That time spent created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments. While arguing near Main Street, he had attempted to separate from her so they could both calm their emotions."
He told the officer that Petito got into the couple's conversion van and had "gone into a manic state," the report said. She slapped him because she thought he was going to leave her in Utah without a ride, Laundrie said in the report.
Laundrie says on the video that the scuffle began when he climbed into their van with dirty feet. He told the officers that he didn't want to pursue a domestic violence charge against Petito, who officers decided was the aggressor.
“I’m not going to pursue anything because she is my fiancée and I love her. It was just a squabble. Sorry it had to get so public,” Laundrie says on the bodycam footage.
The officer concluded that "I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis." The officers told the couple to sleep in separate places for the night so they could "reset their mental states without interference from one another."
The couple agreed, although they told the officer that they desired to remain together, the report said.
Petito and Landrie both told police that "they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn't wish to see anyone charged with a crime."
For Petito's family, the longing to see their daughter again has been exacerbated by Laundrie's refusal to cooperate with police since his return to Florida alone. His lawyer, Steven Bertolino, said he has advised Laundrie not to talk.
“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," Bertolino said in a public statement. "In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses 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 this matter."
Joe Petito, Gabby Petito's father, said he wants a truthful answer about what happened to his daughter.
"I care about finding Gabby," Joe Petito said. "We're going to do anything we can to find her."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gabby Petito mystery deepens after Utah police release bodycam footage