Gabby Petito's Parents Say 'She Would Be Alive Today' If Police Handled Traffic Stop Differently (Exclusive)

Still devastated by their daughter's domestic violence death, Gabby Petito's parents are dedicated to helping others

Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock Gabby Petito
Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock Gabby Petito

The world was stunned when footage of a visibly shaken Gabby Petito sobbed to police after officers pulled over the van in which she and boyfriend Brian Laundrie were traveling.

For her family, seeing the footage was excruciating.

“Our hearts broke seeing Gabby extremely distressed,” her parents, Joseph and his wife, Tara Petito, and Nichole Schmidt and her husband Jim Schmidt, wrote in an exclusive email to PEOPLE.

“We just wanted to reach into the screen to help her, hold her, and hug her,” the parents added.

The body camera footage is at the heart of a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit Gabby’s parents filed against the Moab City Police Department alleging the department could have prevented the young woman's death when they stopped her and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, on the couple's cross country road trip on Aug. 12, 2021.

Related: Parents Say Police Who Questioned Gabby Petito During Traffic Stop Could Have Prevented Her Murder: Lawsuit

The parents are suing over the police interaction with Gabby and Laundrie, when officers stopped the couple after a bystander reported witnessing a domestic dispute. The footage shows Gabby, 22, sobbing and Laundrie, 23, acting as though everything was fine.

“We saw the police officers intentionally ignoring the facts to intentionally stop them from protecting Gabby from a dangerous man,” the parents wrote.

Officers, according to the complaint obtained by PEOPLE, allegedly failed to recognize the warning signs of domestic violence that placed Gabby at risk of escalating harm. The complaint alleges that police should have taken the 911 caller's report — in which the caller reported witnessing Laundrie striking Gabby outside a market — more seriously.

In paperwork filed after the incident, police labeled the entire call as a "mental health crisis" rather than an incident of domestic violence.

Related: Gabby Petito's Parents Are 'Outraged' Over 'Burn After Reading' Letter Allegedly Written by Brian Laundrie's Mom

Weeks after the interaction, Laundrie killed Gabby.

“This is why we are fighting so hard to make changes,” her parents wrote in the email. “We firmly believe if the cops did their job correctly, protected Gabby, and offered her the necessary domestic violence resources, she would be alive today.”

A spokesperson for the city of Moab previously declined comment to PEOPLE, citing the ongoing litigation.

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Related: What's Next for Gabby Petito Homicide Investigation After Brian Laundrie's Remains Are Found?

Her parents want to prevent other domestic violence tragedies. In addition to their lawsuit, they started the Gabby Petito foundation, which supports organizations that locate missing persons as well as those that assist domestic violence victims.

In their email to PEOPLE, the parents wrote that they are "working on making legislative changes, advocating for domestic violence awareness, and finding missing persons."

<p>Find Gabby/Facebook</p> Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie

Find Gabby/Facebook

Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie

“We can only use Gabby's story to continue to help others, and hopefully save the lives of those impacted by the epidemic of domestic violence that plagues our society,” they wrote. "If we can save even one life, that's one more person saved because of Gabby.”

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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