NEW YORK - Family, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers gathered at the Maloney Funeral Home to pay their respects to Gabby Petito, the slain 22-year-old whose case has captured the national spotlight.
"The entire planet knows this woman's name," said Gabby’s father, Joseph Petito, told attendees in an emotional eulogy. He stood in front of the crowd and cameras, with Gabby's stepfather Jim Schmidt by his side, and urged mourners not to be sad.
"I don't want you guys to be sad, to be honest with you," he said. "Gabby did not live that way."
Ahead of the funeral, Joseph Petito thanked the public for all its support in an Instagram post, asking them to make donations to the future Gabby Petito Foundation in lieu of flowers. The foundation is aimed at helping families with resources and guidance to help bring missing children home.
Schmidt remembered Gabby for loving life and being an example for "all of us to live by." He encouraged "people to enjoy every moment in this beautiful world."
Hundreds of people gathered in Holbrook Sunday afternoon for the funeral service at Moloney's Holbrook Funeral Home on Long Island.
"She was a beautiful soul; she was full of life, always smiling," said Desiree Keeffe, a friend of Petito's mother, Nicole. "She gave you love. She was just a beautiful soul. She touched everybody like she did now."
Two fire trucks were positioned one on either side of the funeral home, each with its ladder extended, and a line of firefighters was seen filing into the building. Across the street, a chain link fence was adorned with posters featuring Petito's image and messages such as, "She touched the world."
Joseph Petito, Gabby's father, eulogized his daughter as a "happy girl" who loved the outdoors and had a zest for life.
"I want you to be inspired by Gabby, that's what we're looking for," Petito said. "If there's a trip that you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you've got the time.
Lexi Ruiz recalled working with Petito at a cafe in nearby Patchogue that Ruiz managed.
"She was always willing to help someone else," Ruiz said. "She was just such a light. Anywhere she went the room lit up. It’s nice to see so many people come together and support her family."
Inside the funeral home, dozens of floral arrangements and childhood photos of Petito lined the walls, some capturing her travels. One floral arrangement sent from Norwalk, Connecticut, read, "I don’t know you but your story broke me."
Mourners were greeted with a placard bearing a poem titled "Let it Be" that began with the line, "Do not grieve for me for I am free."
Petito had last been in contact with her family in late August when she and Brian Laundrie were visiting Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Their social media posts documenting the trip abruptly stopped, and Laundrie returned to their Florida home in the van — alone, according to investigators.
Laundrie, who has not cooperated with the police, hasn’t been seen himself since Sept. 14, according to authorities. A federal arrest warrant has been issued for him in connection to the case.
After Gabby Petito's body was found her family's attorney released a statement thanking the various agencies in Wyoming, Florida, and New York who worked the case: "Your tireless work and determination helped bring Gabby home to her parents. The family and I will be forever grateful."
With the Associated Press.
Moloney's Holbrook Funeral Home | 825 Main St., Holbrook, N.Y. 11741 | 631-981-7500