HOLBROOK, N.Y. — Gabrielle Petito, the 22-year-old Blue Point native whose disappearance and death stunned Long Island and riveted the nation, was remembered Sunday in Holbrook as a kindhearted young woman with a zest for life.
“I don’t want you guys to be sad,” her father, Joseph Petito, said during a memorial at Moloney Holbrook Funeral Home. “Gabby didn’t live that way … people gravitated toward her. Her nature was always to smile.”
More than 1,000 people lined up to pay their respects to the young woman, whose image had been a familiar presence on the country’s airwaves as the search for her continued.
Her mother had reported her missing Sept. 11. But the hunt for Gabby Petito ended tragically, with the discovery of her body a week ago in a remote area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
On Tuesday, the FBI said her death had been ruled a homicide based on preliminary autopsy results. The fiance she had been traveling with, Brian Laundrie, was named a “person of interest” in the case and is now missing himself.
Petito’s remains are still in Wyoming as the investigation into her death continues, funeral home officials said.
Inside the funeral home, photographs, flowers and images of Petito surrounded a golden ceremonial urn, Joseph Petito recalled how his daughter loved adventures and outdoor activities like scuba diving and hiking.
Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, said her enthusiasm helped remind him there is more to life than work.
“Gabby, at 22 years old, helped teach me you can always make money but you can’t make up for lost time,” said Schmidt, a former Blue Point fire chief. “She is an example for all of us to live by, to enjoy every moment of this beautiful world as she did, love and give love to all like she did.”
Outside the funeral home were memorials to the young woman. Two fire trucks held a banner with a heart. Teal-colored bows and angel wings, and her picture and the messages “She touched the World” and “Forever in our Hearts” could be seen on the fence of the nearby Seneca Middle School.
Petito had been on a cross-country trip with Laundrie when she disappeared. Petito’s family reported her missing about two weeks after she ceased communication with them and Laundrie returned to his parents’ Florida home alone in her van.