Lifetime's Gabby Petito movie fills gaps with dramatizations but hits these authentic notes

by 24USATVOct. 2, 2022, 4 a.m. 19
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Lifetime's new Gabby Petito movie is a dramatization of true crime events – with fictional moments bridging the gaps in a real-life murder-suicide.

"The Gabby Petito Story," based on the premieres on Oct. 1, the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Skyler Samuels and Evan Hall star as Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, the pair of New York transplants who set off on an ill-fated cross-country road trip in June 2021 and were both dead before winter.

While neither the Petito-Schmidt nor Laundrie families contributed to the film, it touches on several authentic events, including the following key moments in a saga that captivated the country for months, as seen in a press cut viewed by Fox News Digital.

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The movie begins with a Moab police officer pulling the couple over in the entranceway to Arches National Park in Utah – a landmark event in the case that made Petito's name an international headline staple and had internet sleuths scouring everything publicly available for evidence of Laundrie's whereabouts.

Fox News Digital was the first to report the Aug. 12, 2021, domestic 911 call last year, a month after Moab police pulled over the couple but just days after Laundrie returned home to Florida without her. The news ultimately led to an independent investigation into the department's handling of the call and domestic violence incidents.

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In the film, Petito slaps Laundrie, first outside the Moonflower Co-op, an organic grocery in the middle of town. While the real life chain of events remains unclear, she insisted on body camera video to Moab police that she hit him first.

The scene at the Moonflower is recreated with other references to the couple's claims on bodycam video, including an argument over Laundrie tracking sand and dirt into the van.

Fox News Digital reported in October 2021 that Laundrie worked at a Long Island nursery in his hometown of Blue Point, New York.

The film makes a brief mention of this in a scene where Petito first introduces him to her mother and stepfather.

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"Mom, you're such a Gen-Xer," the Gen-Z Petito, played by Samuels, says when Thora Birch, who directed and played Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, questions Laundrie's lack of a career.

"He never came across as the kind of person that would be the killing type," Michael Livingston, who said he worked with Laundrie in parts of 2017 and 2018, told Fox News Digital at the first-ever fundraiser for the Gabby Petito Foundation last year in Patchogue, New York. "But he did have that tendency to be — I don’t wanna say the wrong thing and make him sound worse than he already is — he was kind of a guy who would get p---ed off pretty quick."

Petito would visit two or three times a week, Livingston said, and she would talk about the road trips she wanted to go on or her plans to travel. He noted Laundrie was very possessive – a key element of the movie.

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He also said Laundrie made money on the side by selling drawings and that he spoke about wanting to tour the country’s national parks. The movie version of Petito urges Laundrie to try and build a social media presence with his artwork.

The Daily Mail reported in September 2021 that a jealous Laundrie once stole Petito's driver's license to keep her from going out with a Florida friend, Rose Davis.

"Brian took her ID just so she wouldn't be able to come out with me," she told the outlet. And the scene is recreated in the film when Laundrie has a moment alone with Petito's purse as she is getting dressed to head out.

Davis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday on her prominent role in the film, in which she is depicted as a voice of reason in Petito's life.

Many scenes include images with Samuels recreating Petito's real-life Instagram and YouTube images, including Petito's final Instagram post.

The last time Petito was seen alive in public, as first reported by Fox News Digital, was at the Merry Piglets restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming, where Laundrie got into an argument with female wait staff and the manager.

"I have chills right now," Nina Celie Angelo told Fox News Digital at the time. "It's crazy because it wasn't just like we passed them on the street — it was a full-blown incident."

According to witnesses, Petito apologized to the restaurant workers for the scene, and criminal profiler John Kelly said last year that her move – interpreted as undermining – could have set Laundrie off on the rage that later resulted in her death.

In the movie, Laundrie is shown speaking rudely to a male waiter and arguing with Petito, making a scene in front of a crowd of alarmed diners.

Angelo said she and her boyfriend, Matthew England, were in town for a wedding in late August. They were out to lunch at Merry Piglets, a Tex-Mex restaurant, between 1 and 2 p.m. on Aug. 27, when they said an agitated Laundrie began arguing with a waitress. Four and a half hours later, a travel-blogging couple at a campsite north of town. Her body would be discovered in the area on Sept. 19.

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The movie borrows from the emotional eulogy Petito's father delivered, which can be viewed here:

Protesters spent weeks outside the Laundrie home, demanding the family answer questions from law enforcement about their son's whereabouts after he went missing and Petito's remains were uncovered in Wyoming.

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Several of those protesters were present in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port, Florida, where Laundrie's remains were found on Oct. 20, when Petito's green REI water bottle was discovered in the brush.

The bottle, which appeared in Petito's single YouTube video from her ill-fated road trip, also makes several appearances in the movie.

Lifetime advertised that, "The Gabby Petito Story will explore Gabby and her fiancé Brian Laundrie’s complicated relationship and what may have gone wrong during their cross-country trip that resulted in Gabby’s tragic murder."

The network also teamed up with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to create a PSA that will feature a helpline for women.

, the documentary "Beyond the Headlines: Gabby Petito" will air, taking a closer look at the travel blogger’s complicated relationship with her fiancé and the cross-country trip that resulted in her tragic murder.

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Petito's family on Friday praised a new, to help find missing persons as a "huge step forward."

The new bill introduced Thursday by Democratic Connecticut senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Republican senators John Cornyn of Texas, John Hooven of North Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, aims to streamline the national process for .

"We said as parents we are going to help make changes. Here is a huge step forward," Petito's father, Joseph Petito, said in a tweet Friday.

If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Fox News' Audrey Conklin and Stephanie Nolasco contributed to this report.

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