ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The families of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie have reached a $3 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed after authorities concluded he strangled her during a cross-country trip in August 2021.
The settlement was signed Thursday by Sarasota County Circuit Judge Hunter W. Carroll. A lawyer for Petito's parents said whatever money is received will go to the Gabby Petito Foundation dedicated to locating missing people and curbing domestic violence.
“The Petito family lost their daughter and they were also denied the opportunity to confront her killer,” said attorney Patrick Reilly in an email. “No amount of money is sufficient to compensate the Petito family for the loss of their daughter, Gabby, at the hands of Brian Laundrie.”
The lawsuit involving the estates of Petito and Laundrie, filed in May, claimed Laundrie was liable for damages because he caused her death. A separate lawsuit, still pending in Sarasota, claims Laundrie's parents wrongly concealed that he confessed to killing Petito before he returned home in September 2021 to Florida from their trip out West in a converted van.
Christopher and Roberta Laundrie denied that claim.
Petito’s disappearance on the trip and the subsequent discovery of her slain body Sept. 19, 2021 in a Wyoming national park became a national obsession, which continued during the weekslong search for Laundrie in a swampy Florida nature preserve.
His remains were found there in October 2021 and investigators say he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and left a note confessing to Petito's slaying, according to the FBI.
It's highly unlikely Laundrie's estate has $3 million. Reilly called it “an arbitrary number” but that the Petito foundation would benefit from whatever amount is collected.
“Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt wish to turn their personal tragedy into a positive,” Reilly said.
The Petito family has also filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against police in Moab, Utah, where the couple got into a physical altercation but were allowed by officers to resume their journey despite clear danger signs of domestic violence. The city has declined comment on that lawsuit.
Petito, 22, had been in regular contact with her parents and posted frequently on social media about their travels, including YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. The couple had a regular following before the murder mystery took hold.
The FBI says Laundrie sent text messages from Petito’s cellphone to her parents and others in an effort to pretend she was still alive. He was also charged with illegally using one of her credit cards before his remains were discovered in the Florida nature preserve.
Petito and Laundrie were engaged to be married. Both grew up in Blue Point, New York, but moved to North Port, Florida, in 2019 where his parents live. That's where they began the van trip that ended with both of them dead.
By CURT ANDERSON Associated Press
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