A National Park Service ranger has broken her silence on the call she received regarding a domestic incident between Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie.
The couple was in the middle of a cross-country trip, which ultimately ended with Laundrie returning home alone, and Petito’s body being found in a remote section of Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Laundrie is a suspect in Petito’s murder, and has since disappeared. A manhunt is underway.
Melissa Hulls, the visitor and resource-protection officer at Arches National Park in Utah, spoke to Deseret News about her conversation with Gabby Petito after a domestic incident on August 12th. The park ranger noted that she spoke candidly with the girl, telling her that her relationship seemed “toxic.”
“I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been,” Hulls said.
“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” she continued.
Petito “had a lot of anxiety about being away from” Laundrie, according to Hulls.
“I honestly thought if anything was going to change, it would be after they got home to Florida,” the park ranger said.
Hulls also told the outlet that, by the time she arrived on the scene, Petito was already sitting in the back of the police car, and was visibly distraught.
“I can still hear her voice. She wasn’t just a face on the milk carton, she was real to me,” she said.
Officers from the Moab Police Department were the first ones on the scene of the domestic incident involving Petito and Laundrie near Arches National Park.
When speaking with the police, the couple said that they had been in an argument which led to Petito slapping Laundrie. A 911 call about the incident disputes this claim, as a witness stated that he saw a man “slapping the girl.”
“He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off,” the 911 caller said, according to the audio.
There were scratches on Laundrie’s face when police spoke to him, and the only information that officers had at the time was that Petito had been abusive towards him. In the bodycam footage, police can be seen considering whether to charge Petito with domestic violence. That charge could have saved her life, but instead, likely because she was a woman, police decided not to follow through with that charge, and instead recommended that the two spend a night apart.
A police officer wrote in the report about the incident that it “wasn’t clear.”
That same officer also noted in the report that he later found a witness who said he “saw what appeared to him as Gabrielle hitting Brian in the arm and then climbing through the driver’s window as if Brian had locked her out and she was trying to find a way in.”
Ultimately, the two were allowed to continue with their cross-country trip.
“This wasn’t a good day for anybody. We thought we were making the right decision when we left them,” Hulls told Deseret News.
“I wouldn’t have called [the relationship] unsafe. If we had any reason to think any one of them was in danger, we would’ve separated them,” the park ranger added.
Hulls later said: “It’s not that we didn’t think he was manipulative, but we have to worry about the safety, and not the psychology of it. We have to go by the facts that we were faced with at the time, and not let our emotions drive the decision.”
The park ranger, who has been on the job for 17 years, said that she still has not viewed her body camera footage from that day.
“It’s hard not to second-guess myself, and wish I said more, or wish I had found the right words to make her believe that she deserved more,” Hulls said.
Anyone affected by abuse and in need of support can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Advocates are available 24/7 and additionally reachable by texting LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or via live chat on thehotline.org