BLUE POINT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The story of 22-year-old Gabby Petito‘s disappearance and death has touched people across the nation. On Thursday, the search resumed in Florida for her missing fiancé.
In her hometown of Blue Point, a collection of flowers and balloons expresses community grief, and 650 miles away in North Carolina, another coastal community is heartbroken, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
Petito worked in a Carolina beach restaurant soon after graduating high school.
“Gabby was … a bright soul, a bright light. She was always happy, always had a smile on her face, always trying to bring everybody up with her,” said Lara Witschen, general manager of Smoke on the Water. “She’s not just a name. She’s not just a case. She was a person and she was very special to a lot of people and many of us here.”
Witschen said Petito worked in the kitchen and as a hostess before moving to Florida.
“She was so full of life and had so many plans. She had her whole life ahead of her,” Witschen said.
A free spirit, an artist, Petito’s smile is engraved on the hearts of those she worked with. Now, a table at the restaurant is reserved in her memory.
“To know Gabby was to truly know someone who embodied a free spirit. She made life a little lighter and a little less serious. She was adventurous and loved her family and friends whole heartedly. She enjoyed doing art. That is something we shared a passion for, making the world a more creative and beautiful space,” Witschen said.
Her death has been ruled a homicide, sparking a manhunt for fiancé Brian Laundrie. For the fifth day, FBI-led search teams descended on a sprawling Florida reserve to for him, as more evidence of a toxic relationship emerged.
Swamp buggy heading out. pic.twitter.com/hEVq9TdD2c
— Josh Taylor (@JoshTaylorPIO) September 23, 2021
The couple was documenting what appeared to be a fairytale cross country adventure, until she went missing and he went silent.
According to one witness, they made a scene inside a Jackson Hole, Wyoming restaurant. Nina Angelo recalled seeing Petito crying and Laundrie angry.
“They were the couple fighting in the restaurant in Florida. Friday, Aug. 27, 1 p.m., sitting right next to them. They got kicked out of the restaurant and were fighting with the hostess. She was hysterically crying. She was standing on the sidewalk crying and he walked backed in screaming at the hostess,” Angelo posted on Instagram.
Angelo said she believes it may have been the last time Petito was seen alive.
“She was crying, she was upset. This has to have been right before she died. You could tell he was relentless. He wouldn’t drop it,” Angelo said.
She said she hopes her recollection helps piece together a timeline leading up to Petito’s death.
Back in her hometown, a funeral was tentatively planned for Sunday, but that is on hold pending the release of her remains from the coroner in Wyoming. Candles will be lit Friday night in driveways across Long Island. The movement is called “Shine a light for Gabby.”