Photos of Gabby Petito lined the walls, interspersed with delicate flower arrangements, as friends, family, and strangers alike gathered to say goodbye Sunday to the 22-year-old who was murdered on a cross-country van trip with her boyfriend.
Petito’s father, Joseph Petito, and stepfather, Jim Schmidt, spoke to the mourners gathered inside Moloney Funeral Home in Holbrook, New York. Petito particularly invoked the thread of domestic violence present in his daughter’s story.
“I want you to take a look at these pictures, and I want you to be inspired by Gabby,” Petito said. “If there’s a trip you guys want to take, take it. Now. Do it now while you have the time. If there is a relationship that you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it. Now.”
Schmidt, a firefighter, noted that he has planned numerous funerals for fellow firefighters and delivered multiple eulogies. But, he said, “not one of them has prepared me for this moment.”
Gabby’s father and stepfather spoke at her memorial service.
Joseph Petito says he wants the world to be inspired by Gabby.
“If there is a trip you want to take – do it now while you have the time.”
“If there is a relationship that might not be the best for you – leave it now.” pic.twitter.com/Q8zMQtzsc6
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) September 26, 2021
“Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. This is not how life is supposed to work,” Schmidt said, “but it is an unfortunate reality. Gabby loved life and lived her life every single day … She is an example for all of us to live by. To enjoy every moment in this beautiful world, as she did. To love and give love to all like she did.”
According to FOX 13, the family used an empty urn during the services as the body had not yet been released by the FBI.
After Petito and Schmidt spoke, dozens of mourners passed into the doors of the funeral hall to view the photos and remembrances and to offer condolences to family members who sat in the front row.
“She was always willing to help someone else,” Lexi Ruiz, who managed a cafe where Petito once worked, told NBC News. “She was just such a light … It’s nice to see so many people come together and support her family.”
Desiree Keeffe, a friend of Petito’s mother Nichole Schmidt, called Petito a “beautiful soul.”
“She gave you love,” Keeffe said. “She was just a beautiful soul. She touched everybody like she did now.”
Nichole Schmidt, who hadn’t spoken publicly in nearly two weeks, posted on Facebook Saturday night, telling those who’d posted about her daughter, “my heart is full of love.”
“I wish I could reach out and hug each and every one of you!!!” she wrote, according to ABC. “Your support has been so overwhelming, and we are so filled with gratitude.”
“Please know what you are all doing for us does not go unnoticed, and with all of you by our side, we will get #justiceforgabby.”
Some of those who came had never known Petito or her family. Alene Natale told Fox News that she drove two and a half hours from New Jersey and stood in line because she wanted to speak with Petito’s parents.
“They were really happy that I came,” she said. “She hugged me. Her dad was awesome.”
Natale told Fox that both she and her sister had been in abusive relationships, and Gabby Petito’s story resonated strongly.
“It felt like me, in a way,” she said. “I just had to be here, myself.”
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