Brianna Harmon contributed to this report
Sweet, humble and wearing an endearing smile. This is the Gabby Petito that family and friends — sickened for a week over the Blue Point woman’s disappearance — are praying for and yearning to see again.
It was spring 2019 and NOLE Café juice bar in Patchogue was celebrating its first year in business. Petito, a staffer at the healthy food spot, sat down to be recorded talking about NOLE’s young owner Mackenzie Miller and to wish the eatery a “Happy birthday.”
She loved her job. She was excited about the summer ahead. She seemed happy.
See the 2019 video of Gabby below
“Honestly, Gabby is just as sweet and angelic as she seems,” said Lexi Ruiz, who recorded the video on April 25, 2019, and was the general manager of NOLE at the time. The eatery closed in late 2020.
“You couldn’t be in a bad mood around her. There is something so genuine and special about Gabby and the energy she would bring into the room,” added Ruiz, who shared the video with GreaterSayville.com.
Polite, pretty and charmingly self-effacing, Petito, then only 20 years old, carries an air of serenity across the 64-second interview.
“I love all of the events that they do down here in the summer — like ‘Live After Five,'” Petito, now 22 and reported missing on Sept. 11, says in the video, after describing Miller as empowering, “thoughtful and very quick on her feet.”
Petito’s at ease demeanor in the 2019 video is the opposite of her nervous and upset behavior in police bodycam footage recorded by Utah cops on Aug. 22 after a 911 call reported a physical altercation between Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, 23. The footage shows Petito distraught — often crying uncontrollably — in front of police for nearly an hour.
Police in North Port, Florida, where Petito and Laundrie moved two years ago, said Wednesday that Laundrie, who returned home on Sept. 1 without Petito, is “a person of interest” in her disappearance and that he is hindering the investigation.
Laundrie and Petito, who both graduated from Bayport-Blue Point High School, were traveling together this summer in a converted Ford Transit van in Utah and Wyoming. The couple were making their dream to live the “van life” a reality, and broadcasting much of it on Instagram and YouTube.
Petito has not been heard from by family since August. The couple acknowledged to police on Aug. 12 that they had been fighting and that stress had built up from traveling alone for months.
Even with all of the images Ruiz has seen over the last week as Petito’s disappearance has captured the attention of social media and the national news media, Ruiz chooses to remember and dwell on the sweet and angelic Gabby Petito she captured in the April 25, 2019, video.
“She was always jumping to help someone else, extremely creative and looking to be involved in creating new specials and events,” Ruiz said. “She was always smiling and loving life.”