Gabby Petito’s Parents Want Teens to Look Out for These Dating Red Flags to Prevent Domestic Violence (Exclusive)

"Prevention is key," says Gabby's stepmother Tara Petito

Gabby Petito
Gabby Petito

Gabby Petito’s parents are hoping to raise awareness about domestic violence among school-aged kids.

“Prevention is key,” Gabby’s stepmother Tara Petito tells PEOPLE. “They start dating in middle school, so they need to know where they can go to get resources. They need to also know the signs. They also need to know how not to be an abuser."

Tara, who volunteers at the Gabby Petito Foundation as the administrator and bookkeeper, says, “A lot of times they could just say, ‘Oh, I love you so much, let's have a joint Snapchat.’ But that starts with the controlling and, ‘I want to view everything that you're doing.’ So, they might not even realize that's the start of an abusive type of relationship. We would like to get into the schools and teach them to know what the signs are.”

Tara, 43, along with Gabby’s father Joe Petito and Gabby’s mother Nichole Schmidt and her husband Jim, created the Gabby Petito Foundation shortly after the death of the 22-year-old budding YouTube blogger, who disappeared on a cross-country journey with her fiancé Brian Laundrie in the summer of 2021.

<p>The Petito & Schmidt Families</p> Gabby Petito

The Petito & Schmidt Families

Gabby Petito

Related: Gabby Petito’s Parents Want to Change the Way Domestic Violence Is Treated in the U.S.: 'Laws Are Changing' (Exclusive)

Her body was later discovered near a campground in Wyoming. Laundrie, who died by suicide, was found in a nature preserve near his family’s home in North Port, Fla., on Oct. 20, along with a backpack containing what the FBI described as a notebook “claiming responsibility” for Gabby’s strangulation death.

The foundation focuses on raising awareness about domestic violence while also creating tougher laws and policies governing how police respond to reports of intimate partner abuse and missing persons.

<p>Diana King</p> Jim and Nichole Schmidt and Tara and Joe Petito

Diana King

Jim and Nichole Schmidt and Tara and Joe Petito

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The foundation has also championed the National Domestic Violence Hotline — to which they donated $100,000 in 2022 to help build the group’s capacity — along with the Black and Missing Foundation and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

“People are paying more attention to these issues, especially domestic violence,” says Nichole, who along with Joe, Jim and Tara spoke on a panel at CrimeCon 2024 Nashville. “We get emails all the time from people saying, ‘Gabby saved my life. She gave me the power to get out of my abusive relationship.’ Survivors are coming out and telling their stories. Laws are changing and we’re going to keep fighting.”

<p>Chris Porter/The sun</p>

Chris Porter/The sun

Related: Gabby Petito’s '4 Parents' Share How Her Tragic Death Fulfilled Her Lifelong Dream of Bringing Them 'All Together' (Exclusive)

“We have to prevent this from happening to other people,” she says. “It keeps us strong. Gabby works through us. We have to move forward and change the world together.”

Adds Joe, 45, a warehouse store chain manager who specializes in policy and legislation for the foundation, "When you help one person, you ... help change the course of their life in a positive way, and you want to do that again."

Jim, 42, who focuses on domestic violence awareness training for first responders for the foundation, says it is “overwhelming” how many people are affected by the crime. “It really made us come to the realization they need a lot of help out there, and if we can just help one or two along the way, it goes a long way," he says.

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Tara says the non-profit would like to start a domestic violence prevention program for elementary, middle and high school students.

“There are programs out there, so we don't really want to reinvent the wheel, but we would love to get a free program for all schools to be able to join in on this program to help with it,” she says. “We're still learning. We're trying to learn as much as possible.”

“We might not see the changes happen for a couple of years, but kids need to know,” says Tara.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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