I’m just as angry, just as hurt, just as disgusted as Mr. and Mrs. Petito are right now. We all are.

For those of you who aren’t following the viral Gabby Petito case, 22-year-old Gabby and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, were social media influencers traveling around the country in a van-turned-RV. One day; however, Brian mysteriously returned to his parents’ house in Florida on Sept. 1...without Gabby. Gabby’s parents could not get ahold of her, so on Sept. 11, they reported her missing. Brian did not talk to the authorities and left his parents’ residence soon after the report was filed. A full three days later, the Laundries finally told authorities that their son was missing. Brian was officially named a person of interest, and by this point, it was fairly obvious to everyone following the case that he is responsible, even though investigators could not say it themselves.

In the meantime, the authorities found Gabby’s body and determined that she was manually strangled and died in late August. Strangulation is a common indicator of domestic abuse that will turn deadly. Also, the FBI put out an arrest warrant for Brian for allegedly using Gabby’s debit card after her determined date of death. 

Whether Brian Laundrie actually killed her or not, there’s extensive evidence that his relationship with Gabby was abusive. Cops were called on a few occasions during their trip, and witnesses say they watched Brian slap and hit her. 

Just this week, the Laundries joined the search for their son and soon found some of his belongings in a previously flooded area. They also found human remains nearby. As I’m typing this, the Laundrie family attorney commented publically that there’s a “strong possibility” that the remains are Brian’s, and the medical examiner’s office said in an email that they do not know when the identification process will be complete.

If these remains are Brian’s, the Petito family will never get closure on what happened to their precious girl. They will never get to officially know who took her life. They will never get to move on with their life, knowing that so many questions around their daughter’s death will forever remain unanswered.

But then again, why do I care? I wasn’t one of her Instagram followers. I didn’t watch their YouTube videos on van life. I didn’t even know who she was until the news of her disappearance went viral on social media. 

Actually, most of us didn’t even know who she was until her case. Before she disappeared, her Instagram only had around 1,000 followers. As of Thursday, she now has 1.3 million followers. 

So, why do we care?

I honestly believe that it’s because many of us (especially women) can see ourselves as Gabby. Some of us have been in the same shoes as she was.

As children, we often fantasized about getting married to the perfect partner and having this perfect, loving relationship for the rest of our lives. We wanted to live the fairytale so badly.

Then we got a little older. Our parents allowed us to start dating, and we jumped at the chance to experience a romantic relationship for the very first time. In fact, we jumped in so fast that maybe we overlooked that time our new partner ridiculed us behind our back, maybe we looked the other way when they flirted with someone else, maybe we made excuses for them when they insisted that it was our fault the relationship was falling apart. And then, there was this horrible heartbreak that we never wanted to experience again.

So we became adults. We fell in love with this near-perfect person. Sure, maybe when they get a little too angry, they call us bad things. Maybe when they get a little too drunk, they take swings at us. Maybe they try to make it all better with a gourmet dinner but do it all again next week. But under all that, they’re still that person we fell in love with, right?

Unfortunately, domestic violence in intimate relationships happens way too often, and it’s too easy to fall into a cycle of ‘it’s my fault’ when that is not the case. If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic abuse, contact the domestic abuse support hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.

Ashley Wilkinson is the sports reporter for The Henderson News. Her email is ©2021, Henderson Newspapers Inc.

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