Gabby Petito search leads to answers in other cases

NewsNation PRIME

(NewsNation Now) — The search for answers in the Gabby Petito case may have helped find other missing people around the country.

When people heard about Petito’s disappearance, many on social media began forming communities to share what they knew and combined their knowledge to form credible leads. The surge of support from all corners of the internet not only uncovered clues to Petito’s disappearance, but also to important discoveries in other cases.

This story is part of NewsNation Prime’s special report “Getting Answers: Gabby’s Final Days.” — Here’s how you can watch.

Moab, Utah

Petito was found dead just outside Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on Sept. 19. But it was bodycam footage from more than a month earlier that set the stage for the power of online detectives to begin putting pieces together.

On Aug. 12, a bystander called 911 to report a domestic incident between Petito and her fiance, Brian Laundrie. The caller said he saw Laundrie hit Petito.

Police caught up with the pair along the side of a Utah road. Bodycam video of their interviews went viral and people across the country began looking into the details of the case.

It turned out that 911 call was made in front of the Moonflower Cooperative grocery store in Moab, Utah. It brought attention to a different case.

Kylen Schulte worked at Moonflower. She and her wife, Crystal Turner, disappeared the day after the 911 call. 

Days later, a friend found their campsite in the La Sal mountains. Their bodies were in a nearby creek, riddled with bullet wounds. 

According to a warrant, Shulte “had mentioned to her friends that if something happened to them that they were murdered. Kylen had went on to say that there was a creepy man around their camp and they had been intimidated by him.”

Internet sleuths were quick to suspect a connection with the Laundrie and Petito case, given the matching timelines.

Jason Jensen, a private investigator working the case, called it a “natural conclusion.”

He’s not ready to say Laundrie was involved in the couple’s deaths, but he is also not willing to rule it out. Police, however, have said they don’t believe Laundrie is connected.

“Until you identify a suspect, you don’t know,” Jensen told NewsNation. “So you don’t want to start formulating tunnel vision or erroneously exclude people prematurely, because then it’s harder to bring them back into the spotlight if that judgment was mistaken to begin with.”

purported Laundrie sightings led to new discoveries

Laundrie was last seen by his parents Sept. 13, nearly a week before Petito’s body was found and just days before he was named a person of interest in her disappearance.

The manhunt for him began on Sept. 17. Laundrie was found dead in the Carlton Reserve near his home on Oct. 20.

In those six weeks before he was found, the search for Laundrie intensified nationwide. The murders of Schulte and Turner were the first in a growing list of grim discoveries that were in some way related to the pursuit of Laundrie.

Reports that Laundrie had been spotted in Tillmans Corner, Alabama, some 600 miles away from Laundrie’s home in Florida, led police to a body behind a dumpster. However, there was no link to Laundrie.

Reports of Laundrie in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains led search teams to another body, this one belonging to 33-year-old Josue Calderon. The Rhode Island man, who had been stabbed to death, was found some 800 miles south.

Sara Bayard, missing since July, was found in El Paso County, Colorado, in an area where Petito and Laundrie had posted Instagram photos.

In Teton County, Wyoming, near where Petito’s body was found, investigators also found the body of Robert “Bob” Lowery, who’d been missing since August.

Authorities there credit the news coverage and help from the public for finding the remains of the father of two.

“The widespread news coverage of the Gabby Petito search helped bring light to Lowery’s case,” Teton County Search and Rescue said in a statement in September. “And resulted in at least two members of the public calling local authorities this past weekend with new information about his possible last seen point.”

The increased awareness of missing persons cases is leading to more tips, former New York detective Michael Alcazar said.

“I think it’s very helpful. And I think it’s the way of the future,” Alcazar told NewsNation. “A lot more YouTubers and Instagrammers are going to come forward with any information that they can provide. And it’s up to law enforcement to figure out what’s useful.”

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