TAMPA, Fla. - After Gabby Petito's disappearance and death made headlines in August 2021, her family is working to make sure others in a similar position can get help.
Petito disappeared while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend and was later found dead in Wyoming's Bridger–Teton National Forest. Now, her family has shared their latest work to make sure other domestic violence victims get help through a new bill named after her that was filed Wednesday.
Gabby’s father, Joseph Petito, vice president of the Gabby Petito Foundation, said he worked with Florida Senator Lauren Book to come up with the Gabby Petito Act or Senate Bill 610.
The bill proposes a new statewide mandate for all law enforcement to do what's called a lethality assessment when investigating domestic violence incidents.
"We know in different places throughout the country where lethality assessments are used. Even here in our great state, where they're used in pockets, we know that it reduces the incidence of a lethal situation," said State Senator Lauren Book, D-Minority Leader. "In Maryland, where we've kind of seen a lot of this work being done, it reduces the lethality by 35 to 45 percent."
The Spring of Tampa Bay’s Mindy Murphy said they worked with Book and the Petito family on the legislation, and she said it can establish a history of abuse beyond an initial call.
"Law enforcement ask the survivor separated from the abuser, a series of questions that are designed to pinpoint the risk that that that victim might eventually be murdered by their partner," said Murphy, the president and CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay.
Gabby went on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie in 2021, and he returned home to North Port without her.
At one point, they were pulled over in Moab, Utah and a domestic violence investigation began, but they were allowed to continue on with their trip.
Murphy said Moab, Utah, police missed those clues when they talked with Gabby in body camera video from August 2021 before she was killed.
"Within the first three minutes, Gabby talks about how Brian put, and she actually puts her hands up like this, how he put his hands around her face," Murphy said. "That would have been a perfect opportunity for law enforcement to stop and say, ‘Hey, has he ever done that before?’"
Gabby’s father hopes it will connect with everyone, sharing what he thinks Gabby would say to him today.
"She’d probably get mad at me for, you know, letting it be named after her. But to be honest with you, I hope when I leave this place and I get to see her again, I can ask her, did I make you proud? And I've said it before and hopefully, she'll say yes," said Petito.
Petito said the bill was over a year in the making, and he said it was important to the family that it be stand-alone legislation. He said domestic violence is a people issue, not a political issue, and he hopes to see something similar on the national level.