Tipster talks about spotting Gabby Petito’s van in Grand Teton National Park
Sep 17, 2021, 7:16 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 1:46 pm
JACKSON, Wyo. — Family members of missing 22-year-old Gabby Petito believe answers to her disappearance could be inside Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
Authorities and family are banking on tips from the public to help track Petito’s whereabouts.
“All those little pieces can be little pieces of the puzzle to help us figure out where Gabby is,” said Sgt. Clayton Platt with the Teton County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities are hoping witness tips will narrow down the search area in the park’s sprawling 310,000 acres.
Family members hope witness accounts like that of Shannon Baker, will help fill in the gaps.
“We drove through the Tetons and the only stop we made was at Jenny Lake,” Baker said.
Baker said it was 5 p.m. on Aug. 25, when she and her husband spotted Petito’s van in the Jenny Lake parking area.
“I’m sure of it,” Baker said. “It had the black ladder on the back and the two black rooftops on top, the two bars, and we made the comment that would be the perfect little camper van to go around in.”
The Bakers described the park as crowded since it was the National Park Service’s birthday and admission was free. However, in the midst of all the cars, they spotted the van pointing out its singular design as something they would want for themselves.
“My husband looked at it and goes that’s the same vehicle they use on (the TV show) ‘American Pickers,’” Baker said of Petito’s white 2012 Ford Transit van.
Baker said they didn’t think much of the sighting until Sunday when news started breaking of Petito’s disappearance on social media.
“I said, ‘Oh my god! That’s the same van we saw,’” Baker said.
The Bakers didn’t get a picture, but they’re certain they saw the van — and so is Petito’s family.
“They remembered commenting on how cute it was. They liked the way it looked and it was a good size. They were very detailed about their description, so I do believe they saw the van on the 25th,” said Petito’s mother Nichole Schmidt during her first interview with KSL TV on Sept. 12.
Meanwhile, authorities are keeping details of their investigation and search areas close to the vest.
“I can’t give you any specifics on areas of interest but we are certainly following up on all leads that we receive,” Sgt. Platt said.
Nevertheless, they’re asking previous park visitors, especially those who visited the park in late August, to go through the pictures on their phones for sightings of Petito, Laundrie or their van.
“You never know what you’ve got in a photo that you’ve thought and lo and behold, there was a van that matches the description of this van in this case,” said Platt.
As for the Bakers, the couple was on a trip to make lasting memories as Russell Baker has terminal cancer. But they never imagined their memories could help a complete stranger.
“Without a doubt, on my husband’s life, I know for a fact that was their van,” Shannon Baker said.
Interestingly enough, the Bakers said they’re also from Florida and live about an hour north of Petito’s home.
We’re also hearing there may be more witness sightings of Petito in the Jenny Lake area on Aug. 25.
Anyone with info can visit tips.fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI.
See KSL TV’s complete coverage of the search for Gabby Petito here.