More details are trickling in about missing hiker Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old whose remains were found in Grand Teton National Park on Sept. 19.
When Gabby Petito’s family declared her missing on Sept. 11, the FBI started getting thousands of tips from people across the nation. Some of those tips actually contained vital information about Petito’s case, like a call from 38-year-old graphic designer Jessica Schultz.
Schultz spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle recently about what she saw in Grand Teton National Park around the end of August. While driving towards a dispersed camping area called Spread Creek in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Schultz got stuck behind a white van that might have been Gabby Petito’s.
When she pulled around the van, Schultz looked over and saw “a ‘generic’ young white guy” driving alone. This was on Aug. 26.
“I’m pretty sure he got out of the van to, like, look around or something,” Schultz said. “There’s definitely nobody in that passenger seat; like he definitely doesn’t have a girl in there.”
The van had pulled partially over to let Schultz through, the nose sticking off the side of the road in an area not designated for pulling over.
“He was just acting weird,” Schultz said about the man she is now certain was Laundrie. “You know, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, your hackles go up when you see something that’s out of the ordinary.”
How the Witness Figured Out It Was Gabby Petito’s Van, Without Her in It
Schultz and her friends saw the same van parked in the same spot for the next two days — on Aug. 27 and 28. She doesn’t remember seeing it on Aug. 29. And she doesn’t remember seeing anyone, Brian Laundrie or Gabby Petito, around the van the last two times she saw it.
Fast forward to last week. Utah police release bodycam footage of Petito crying after she and Laundrie get into a fight. When one of Schultz’s friends sent her the video, she noticed a distinct straw hat sitting on the dashboard. One she also saw in the van on the side of the road in Wyoming.
“My friend texted me a picture of the hat on the dashboard and I just lost my s—,” Schultz said. “And that’s when I called the FBI (on Thursday) and said, ‘Guys, look at Spread Creek.’”
Schultz called it in on Thursday, Sept. 16. The FBI called her back and set up an interview just before 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19. By then, Schultz had also seen the video posted by the YouTuber family, the Bethunes, who also saw the van by Spread Creek Dispersed Campsite.
She was convinced the van had to be Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie’s. Little did Schultz know that the same day she talked to the FBI about the location would be the day they discovered human remains near the campsite.
Schultz remembers the FBI agent saying, “‘I’ve talked to hundreds of people, but you guys are the ones that really tipped us off to the right place, so thank you.'”
Despite potentially bringing closure to the Petito family, the implications of what Schultz saw still weighs on her.
“We’re triumphant — we were right and we led them in the right direction,” Schultz said. “But then, of course, it’s not something you like to be right about. It’s been emotionally exhausting for sure.”