ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — There has been no shortage of calls and tips flooding in from around the nation — witnesses eager to share what they know about the disappearance and homicide of Gabby Petito. Capital Region experts say the attention to this case highlights how important it is to be aware and know when to come forward when you suspect domestic violence.
“If you do see something, you should say something, because obviously in this case, law enforcement did get a lot from these tips,” says Amanda Wingle, the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center Deputy Director.
Wingle and retired Troy PD Captain John Cooney say getting witnesses to come forward can sometimes be the hardest part of their job. Cooney now trains officers on domestic violence interview and intervention. He says in Gabby Petito’s case, witnesses gave police vital clues.
“The witnesses have got the police to the place they needed to go to start to find the remains. The witnesses have gotten police into the mode of thinking there was aggression and violence in this relationship,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Witnesses had called Moab City Police to report Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, arguing outside their van. Police documents confirm a witness claimed to have seen a physical altercation between the two before police arrived, questioned the couple, ultimately suggesting they separate for the night shortly before Petito’s disappearance.
Cooney says all the body camera video and evidence so far shows police did what they could to intervene in this particular case, but generally, it’s hard to make an arrest without injury to provide probable cause.
“Two people on the road, having disagreements, and really making it clear to the police that they do not wish any help, you can only go so far with that before you have to just send them on their way,” he says. “We have to look at these domestic violence cases as always pro-arrest, but unfortunately, a phone call from a witness doesn’t automatically create a mark or a bruise and that’s what we usually need to see to go further.”
However, he and Wingle agree bystander intervention can be crucial in preventing domestic violence.
“That could be either a direct intervention, going up to the situation and saying something, which may not always be safe, but there’s also other things you can do. You can create a distraction to diffuse the situation or you can also delegate, which means getting others or authority like law enforcement involved,” Wingle explains.
She says the Petito case has gained international attention, likely due to the high visibility through social media.
“It is wonderful that so much attention has been brought to this case. I think it’s a really important time to reflect on the fact that there are thousands of other people that go missing every year, especially people of color, indigenous people, whose cases don’t really get as much attention,” she says.
In order to bring awareness to such cases like Gabby’s that happen every day, she says it’s important to be observant of your surroundings. She says those in a potentially toxic relationship or friends and family observing one should be aware of a cycle domestic abuse cases often follow.
“The cycle starts out with a honeymoon phase, right? Everything is good, everybody just met, everyone’s happy. Then there’s the sense of tension building, the sense of walking on egg shells on the part of the victim, and then often there is what we call an ‘explosion’, which could be either something physical, it could be emotional abuse like shouting, and then the whole cycle just starts over and over again,” Wingle explains.
“Some of the other behaviors we look for are intensity early on in the relationship. Some people might call it ‘love bombing’. Trying to control who the victim sees or what they do with their time, are constantly checking their cell phones, that way of needing to know everything about what they’re doing. Also, ‘gaslighting’ or an attempt to make the victim question their perception of reality,” she goes on to say.
Wingle says while police intervention is both vital and at times restricted by legal thresholds, for resources like hers, nothing is too small a reason to call and get your questions answered.
“We don’t have any requirement like a police report or physical violence having happened. We are happy to speak with anyone who has a little bit of a concern about this, maybe for themselves maybe for their friends or their family,” she says.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, abuse, if you have concerns or need someone to talk to, call the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center hotline at 518-447-7716.