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Let’s do our part to save the next “Gabby”

Like millions of individuals, I’ve been captivated by the Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito story.

Most every major news network has been on top of this story since the 22-year-old went missing several weeks ago while she and her fiancé Brian Laundrie were on a cross-country adventure that she was documenting on social media.

Petito’s body was discovered Sept. 19 in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Laundrie didn’t participate in the search….choosing rather to return to Florida where a search is underway for him in a nature reserve.

Authorities have ruled Petito’s death as a homicide. They want to question Laundrie, when and if they find him.

As a father of a 36-year-old daughter, my heart is broken for the Petito family. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.

What’s more disturbing, however, is what appears to be a pattern of domestic abuse in this sad case. That sort of abuse can be just as much emotional as physical.

I want to share a post I saw on Facebook last week that a keen observer of domestic abuse patterns saw in this particular case. I’m using my space this week to share those observations in hopes that they can perhaps save someone’s life.

Based on the body camera video posted by the officers who pulled Gabby and her fiancé over for suspicious driving, some viewers assumed she was suffering from mental illness and Laundrie was the stable one.

Some may have even assumed Gabby was the abuser and Brian was the victim. These assumptions are classic. Why? Because, in many cases, the target manages to keep things together until her breaking point, at which time others may see her crying or hear her yelling or see her breaking, and then they assume she’s “crazy.”

Meanwhile, the abuser plays the part of the poor, patient partner who has to deal with this crazy person. But all the while, he’s been acting very differently behind closed doors, pushing her to this point intentionally and feeding on her emotional break. He loves to see her pain.

For this reason, “breaking her” has been the abuser’s goal from the start. It may take him hours or weeks or months or even years to break her, but he won’t stop until he gets that reaction, and then he’ll point the finger and say, “See? She’s crazy. I’m just trying to keep her calm.” And then he’ll do it again. And again. And again.

In the video, we see Gabby making many excuses for Brian’s behavior, and she takes all the blame for everything he does. We also see Brian blaming Gabby and saying he was just trying to keep her calm. This is also the norm for victims of long-standing abuse. A target becomes conditioned to believe everything the abuser does is her fault.

It’s clear that she doesn’t want Brian to be in trouble. She’d rather pay the price and protect the man she loves. Also, remember she truly believes he only acted this way because of her, so she doesn’t want him to be blamed. This is also the norm. Smart law enforcement officers see right through this. Others buy the cover-up story.

Gabby and Brian had been together since their teens. These immature relationships work beautifully when both partners grow together and mature emotionally. But when one wants to keep the other down, naive, and under his control…and the other is growing, learning, and maturing, it doesn’t work.

We hear Gabby tell the officer that Brian didn’t think she could do her travel blog. It seems clear that he didn’t believe in her and was trying to make her not believe in herself. She also says he didn’t like her working and that he locked her out of the van because she wouldn’t calm down. But when you listen to the full video, it sounds like he was upset because they’d spent too much time at the coffee shop with her working on her website when he wanted to go hiking. She wasn’t in her seat when he was ready to leave. Control issues?! He squeezed her face with his hand in anger. He cut her down and criticized her, verbally abusing her until she was a wreck of tears. He was breaking her spirit, intentionally, because her focus wasn’t 100% on him.

She had found a job she enjoyed and was good at and that allowed her to connect with other people, but he wanted her all to himself. She now had this one little piece of her life that he couldn’t completely control, so he wanted to get rid of that. It angered him.

The overall takeaway? When you see someone crying like this, don’t assume she’s crazy. Don’t buy into the false narrative given by the abuser. Don’t believe the cover-up story by the target who has been conditioned to carry all the blame and shame. And don’t assume she’s going to be okay. She just may end up your next recovered body.

If you or someone you love are in an unhealthy relationship, please don’t assume it will get better in time. I haven’t heard one single story where it got better. Not one. Not with therapy. Not with church. Not with prayer or forgiveness or complete surrender.

Nothing works when the abuser is determined to destroy that target. He will not stop until she is erased from this world or from her life. And in many cases, he’ll walk away without any consequences.

Please don’t let the next Gabby be you or someone you love. Call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

I hope this helps us all better understand all the nuances of domestic violence.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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