As family, friends and even strangers gathered Sunday to pay their respects to Gabby Petito, a family friend described the 22-year-old as a “beautiful soul” who “touched everybody” before and since her disappearance and death, the Associated Press reported.
The funeral home viewing took place in Holbrook, about 35 miles from New York City, one week after Petito’s body was discovered and amid an ongoing manhunt for her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
“She was a beautiful soul; she was full of life, always smiling,” said Desiree Keeffe, a friend of Petito’s mother, Nicole. Keefe added that Petito gave love to others and “touched everybody, like she did now.”
Lexi Ruiz, who managed a cafe in Patchogue where Petito once worked, recalled her as a positive presence who was “always willing to help someone else,” according to the AP. “She was just such a light. Anywhere she went, the room lit up,” Ruiz said.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Two fire trucks were positioned on either side of the funeral home, each with its ladder extended, and a line of firefighters was seen filing into the building. Across the street, a chain link fence was adorned with posters featuring Petito’s image and messages such as “She touched the world.”
Petito was reported missing September 11 by her parents after she didn’t respond to calls and texts for several days while she and Laundrie visited national parks in the West.
Her body was discovered last Sunday in a remote area in northwestern Wyoming. Laundrie and Petito grew up on Long Island but in recent years were living with his parents in Florida.
Inside the funeral home, dozens of floral arrangements and childhood photos of Petito lined the walls, some capturing her travels. One floral arrangement sent from Norwalk, Connecticut, read, “I don’t know you but your story broke me.”
Mourners were greeted with a placard bearing a poem titled “Let it Be” that began with the line, “Do not grieve for me for I am free.”
Petito’s death has been classified as homicide, meaning she was killed by another person, but medical examiners in Wyoming haven’t disclosed how she died because further autopsy results are pending.
The couple posted online about their trip in a white Ford Transit van converted into a camper. They got into a physical altercation on August 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop for a possible domestic violence incident. Ultimately, police there decided to separate the quarreling couple for the night. But no charges were filed, and no serious injuries were reported.
Investigators have been searching for Laundrie in Florida, including his parents’ home in North Port, about 35 miles south of Sarasota.
On Thursday, federal officials in Wyoming charged Laundrie with unauthorized use of a debit card, alleging he used a Capital One bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorized withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing. They did not say who the card belonged to.