‘Always happy’: Gabby Petito touched the lives of people she never met

Gabby Petito Case

TAMPA, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Gabby Petito, the young woman at the center of a nationwide investigation, was an adventure seeker who will forever be remembered for her big smile.

 “Always had a smile on her face,” said Jennifer McNamara, a family friend. “Happy-go-lucky. Just a really bright spirit.”

The 22-year-old, who vanished while on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, was the oldest of six. She loved traveling, camping and hiking.

“I’ve always known Gabby to just be so kind and caring,” said Zoey Wickman, Gabby’s cousin. “She was always happy. She literally lived in the middle of the desert. She lived in a tent and she was still always happy.”

Petito was passionate about art and drawing, interior design and working as a nutritionist.

She was reported missing Sept. 11 by her parents after she did not respond to calls and texts for several days while the couple visited parks in the West. Her body was discovered Sunday in the vicinity of a remote, undeveloped campground along the border of Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming.

Her father says she touched the world.

Teton County Coroner Brent Blue classified Petito’s death as a homicide — meaning her death was caused by another person — but did not disclose how she was killed, pending further autopsy results.

Her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, has been named a person of interest in Petito’s death. He was charged with unauthorized use of a debit card as searchers continued looking for him Thursday in Florida swampland.

Petito and Laundrie grew up together on Long Island, New York, but they moved in recent years to North Port, Florida where his parents live.

Now, her legacy being is being remembered with teal ribbons hung from New York to Utah. The color was chosen by her mom because it reminds her of Petito’s eyes.

“Her smile would light up any room,” said Maija Polsley, a friend of the Petito family. “Her smile lit up the entire world. Everybody fell in love with her.”

Polsley joined NewsNation during a one-hour special report Thursday. See her interview in the player below.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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