Gabby Petito's Stepdad, a Firefighter, Aims to Help First Responders Recognize Domestic Violence (Exclusive)

Gabby Petito, 22, was murdered on a cross-country trip with her fiancé Brian Laundrie in 2021

<p>Photo by FBI Denver/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock </p> Gabby Petito

Photo by FBI Denver/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock

Gabby Petito

Gabby Petito’s stepfather is working towards bringing domestic violence training programs to firefighters and EMS workers to help those first responders recognize the crime.

Jim Schmidt, 42, a fire and rescue administrator in Hillsborough County, Fla. who focuses on domestic violence awareness training for first responders for the Gabby Petito Foundation, said it’s “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 told PEOPLE last month. “To have someone listen to them and try to help. It really matters a lot. It mattered for us, and we're just driven by what we do so we're not going to stop. We can't get everybody all the time, but we do our best to get the word out there and direct people to services that can really help them.”

Jim, along with Gabby's mother Nichole Schmidt and Gabby’s father Joe Petito and Joe's wife Tara, 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.

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.

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

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

Diana King

Nichole and Jim Schmidt, Joseph and Tara Petito

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.

Jim, who worked as a firefighter for 25 years in Long Island, says he sees the need for mandated domestic violence training for firefighters and paramedics across the country.

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

Find Gabby/Facebook

Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie

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

“Sometimes you're really busy, and sometimes you get a little callous and jaded sometimes,” he says. “And you walk into a domestic violence incident. And if that victim at that moment is kind of being difficult or seems to be difficult or not really answering your questions, a lot of times it's easy to get frustrated. But it's important for them to understand why they are like that, why they're afraid to speak out. Maybe they've reached out before and they weren't getting any help, and now here you are walking in, asking questions in what may seem like a judgmental way, they're not going to open up to you. So, recognizing that you kind of have to change and pivot from your normal walking in, and being more trauma-informed and understanding. Giving them training will help them realize, 'This is why they're behaving the way they are. This is how you can connect with them.'"

He adds: "Maybe they'll go, they'll get transported if they need it, maybe they won't, but maybe for the first time, they really feel like somebody's there listening and helping them. And if you know where to send them for help, having them get connected with their local domestic violence organizations, maybe that's the catalyst that it takes for them to start their path to safety.”

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

The Petito & Schmidt Families

Gabby 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.

“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 last month. “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.”

“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.”

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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