$100,000 donation to domestic abuse hotline

Gabby Petito Domestic Violence (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Gabby Petito Domestic Violence (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Even in hindsight, Nichole Schmidt can’t be sure anything could have been done to save her daughter Gabby Petito from a messy and violent relationship that ended in murder nearly a year ago in the western desert.

But there is work to be done, she said, to keep alive the memory of her daughter, who was found strangled last September outside the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, after a cross-country trip turned into a high-profile missing person case. , then in tragedy and mourning.

Through a $100,000 grant from the Gabby Petito Foundation, Schmidt now partners with the National Domestic Violence Hotline to help others survive turbulent and violent relationships.

“I think Gabby’s story has touched a lot of people and she’s saving lives. I get people texting me all the time saying they were inspired by her to get out of a relationship,” Schmidt said during an interview with The Associated Press.

The anti-violence hotline receives calls from thousands of people every year, most of them women seeking help leaving physically or emotionally abusive relationships.

To date, more than 440,000 people who have called have sought help from the hotline – about a third more than in the same period last year.

The sharp increase in calls has led to longer wait times for a counselor, going from 7 minutes to more than 17 minutes, according to Katie Ray-Jones, executive director of the hotline.

“This is a substantial increase that really overwhelms our services,” Ray-Jones said. “We need to increase the number of defenders.”

The Petito Foundation donation, as well as a $200,000 donation from another family, will reduce wait times and expand the hotline’s “Hope Can’t Wait” initiative.

Investigators believe Petito’s boyfriend Brian Laundrie killed her in late August last year while the couple was on a cross-country road trip in a van.

Petito’s disappearance launched a massive search. Amateur detectives scoured social media for clues. It also brought back scrutiny from authorities and the media, both of which were criticized for focusing more attention on missing white women than women of color.

“We were seeing a lot of media coverage of a young white girl who had disappeared,” Ray-Jones acknowledged during a joint interview with Schmidt. But she said the public response came from diverse groups, including some families of color.

Laundrie killed herself in a Florida swamp, leaving behind a notebook that authorities said contained a confession.

Earlier this year, an independent investigation found that Moab, Utah, police made “several unintentional mistakes” when they came across Petito and Laundrie during a traffic stop last summer. The officers investigated a fight between the couple but ended up letting them go under the agreement that they would spend the night apart.

In the report, police said it was very likely that Petito “was a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether physically, mentally and/or emotionally.”

Schmidt said he still has many unanswered questions about what went wrong.

“Looking back, I didn’t really see any signs. I think the only two people who will know what happened in that relationship are Gabby and Brian. And we can guess and make assumptions, but we don’t really know what happened,” she added. “Probably the scenario ended like this because something was going on for a while.”

For now, she said, work continues to help others survive domestic violence.

“I know I can use this tragedy to help save so many,” Schmidt said. “It’s her legacy.”

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