Gabby Petito embarked on a cross-country road trip with boyfriend Brian Laundrie in July, documenting every turn of their new van life on their nascent YouTube channel, where they invited the world to tag along.
But more than a week after Laundrie returned from the trip alone, Petito’s family reported the 22-year-old missing, and followers took that invitation to heart — scouring her posts and unpacking the mystery in real time.
The hashtag #gabbypetito has been viewed more than 867 million times on TikTok alone.
Paris Campbell, a comedian and TikTok user, saw some of herself in the videos she watched of Petito.
“I’m a new mother,” Campbell told NewsNationNow. “I saw an interview with Gabby’s mother crying, begging for people to help bring her daughter home. It just resonated with me.”
Haley Toumaian, 24, is a data analyst. But she’s also using her account and expertise to hunt for clues.
“My goal is to share as many things as I can because you just never know who’s going to see the video and who might know something,” she told NewsNationNow.
Millions have poured over the various posts, dissecting threads and theories. One of Toumaian’s videos scrutinizes the captions on Petito’s Instagram posts. Campbell flagged an apparent change in who appeared in the photos themselves in another video.
“I saw myself a lot in what was being reported about Gabby,” Toumaian said. “We’re similar age, we’re both engaged to be married. We’re both YouTubers and just live a kind of similar lifestyle.”
She said she also knew what it was like to be in a toxic relationship. That empathy became even more applicable after bodycam footage in Utah showed Petito and Laundrie after a recent fight.
After weeks of mystery, a break in the case came online. YouTubers Jenn and Kyle Bethune found video of a white van they happened to catch on their camera during a trip to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park on Aug. 27. That van matched the description of the one Petito and Laundrie traveled in.
The van was on the side of the road. Then they gave the footage to the FBI, who closed the area to the public.
Days later, on Sept. 19, they found Petito’s body nearby.
For the online community, the search for Laundrie — and justice — continues.
In a TikTok video, Miranda Baker claimed she picked Laundrie up in the park alone. She said she called the authorities after recognizing him in TikTok videos after the fact.
The community is also building on its own findings. Former Marine and self-described audio/video nerd, Brent Shavnore, said he enhanced the video of the van and believed he could see the door closing.
“When I zoomed in with a 4k video, it was clear as day to me on a large monitor that that door looked to be closing,” Shavnore told NewsNationNow. “I got chills up my spine, and when I saw that happen, I posted that to Twitter instantly to see if anybody else saw the same thing.”
Several people on Twitter commented on the video saying that it was “creepy” to see someone “abruptly” close the door in the enhanced video.
There has been some debate on whether the flood of speculation and analysis has been helpful or not, but Michael Alcazar, an investigator with the New York Police Department for 30 years, says it’s “very helpful.”
“There’s like bigfoot sightings of Laundrie right now. Everyone is handing in images, grainy images,” he told NewsNationNow.com. “And I think that’s a big help. It’s like a lot of investigators out there doing a canvas for this person of interest.”
There’s no signs the community, hungry for answers, will turn their energy away anytime soon.
“There’s something really powerful about a large group of people trying to get the same message across and a large group of people being focused on a single topic,” Campbell said. “And I think that the natural outcome from that would be some sort of progress.”
“If I can make a difference, then it’s worth it,” Toumaian said.