Relationship expert Heather Dugan tells In Touch exclusively that she noticed a red flag about Brian Laundrie and the Gabby Petito case before her remains were found and identified after “something [Petito’s] mother said actually in an interview about Gabby not being able to do life alone, about being dependent.”

In a September 2021 interview with Patch.com, Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, described her daughter as being “very dependent” and “not somebody that could be on her own.”

“A lot of people don’t really break that down into what it means, but if we are not an independent person, if we don’t feel confident of our own decisions, that leaves us susceptible to gaslighting, to not trusting our own sensory input,” Dugan says, hinting at the toxic relationship between Laundrie and Petito before her homicide by strangulation.

“And those kinds of situations, you lose touch with yourself very quickly,” she says, before adding that when your own “dialogue is dialed down,” then “the abuser’s voice and the voice in your head, that voice isn’t going to be helping you either in that situation.”

“Obviously, she was very distraught, and that again would be another red flag,” she says of the body cam footage of Petito and Laundrie’s traffic stop in Moab, Utah, on August 24, where responding officer’s classified the incident as disorderly conduct rather than domestic abuse. Despite the alleged altercation, the couple told law enforcement that they were in love and did not want to press charges. Police determined that the incident was not domestic violence but caused by a mental or emotional health “break.”

“What I saw there is somebody struggling, period,” Schmidt says of Petito’s demeanor in the body cam footage. “People get into that situation when they feel overwhelmed by life. And that can be from their interactions with another person.”

Schmidt would later describe watching the footage of her daughter in an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, saying she wanted to “wanted to jump through the screen and rescue her.”

“I know that in many of the interviews, people talked about volatility and drama in a healthy adult relationship,” Dugan adds. “There isn’t so much drama. The drama may be from an outside incident in life, but you learn how to handle those bumps along the way together without turning it into something cycling between the two of you. It seemed like they had many spin cycles in and out of that kind of a volatile back-and-forth thing.”

Speaking on abuse, Dugan adds that the behavior “begins really with just a control issue that goes on underneath there. And a lot of times that can feel like a sub-current, but something feels off and it comes down to one person trying to control the actions, thoughts, life of another.”

Petito was initially reported missing on September 11 after she embarked on a cross-country trip with her then-fiancé, Laundrie, who arrived a his parents’ home in North Port, Florida, without her.

On September 15, the North Port police released a statement confirming Laundrie, who left his parents’ home on September 13, was a person of interest. He was later reported missing on September 17.

On September 19, remains were found in a Wyoming park that were consistent with Petito’s, and were later confirmed to be hers by the coroner. Her death was listed as a homicide and her cause of death was eventually determined to be strangulation.

After an extensive, month-long manhunt, Laundrie’s remains were found in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on Wednesday, October 20, and were positively identified as being his the following day.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential support.

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