The Gabby Petito Foundation, started by her family in her honor, donated $100,000 to the National Domestic Violence Hotline as they approach the one-year mark since her tragic disappearance.
Petito’s remains were discovered in Wyoming after vanishing on a cross-country trip with her fiancé Brian Laundrie in 2021. The story captivated the hearts and minds of the country, spotlighting the pervasiveness of domestic violence once the truth about her troubled relationship with Laundrie was revealed.
In the days after Petito’s death was ruled a homicide by manual strangulation, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported it received a record number of calls from people in abusive relationships seeking support.
Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told Fox News’ Laura Ingle that calls have increased to an average of 80,000 a month since information of Petito’s death was revealed. With significantly more callers seeking guidance, the hotline has been struggling to keep up with staffing and funding.
“We don’t have enough advocates to meet the demand of services,” Ray-Jones said. “Our wait times are high. We’re not able to get to the number of people coming in, and we need to hire more advocates.”
Petito’s family, who launched a foundation in her memory to support organizations centered around missing persons and victims of domestic violence, promptly answered the call. Turning their pain into purpose, the Gabby Petito Foundation partnered with the National Domestic Violence Hotline with a $100,000 donation in her memory. The foundation’s gift will be used to hire more advocates so there will never be a caller who is unable to get the help they need.
“Thinking about my daughter, if she had decided to call and then she couldn’t get through… ” Petito’s mother Nichole Schmidt told Ingle. “It just breaks my heart knowing that outcome could happen to somebody because they couldn’t get through, so this is important.”
Schmidt finds comfort in knowing her daughter’s tragedy has helped save so many others from the same fate, she said.
“We still get messages from complete strangers,” she said. “Honestly, she’s saving lives. People see themselves in her. People from all walks of life. They see a situation they don’t want to be in. They don’t want to end up in that horrible, tragic ending.”
“It’s impacting millions of people, and I’m just so proud of her because I feel like she’s doing all the work,” she added. “We’re just doing it for her. I feel like she’s almost working through us with her spirit, so I’m just really excited to help as many people as we can.”
The funds donated by the Gabby Petito Foundation is in support of the hotline’s Hope Can’t Wait initiative, which aims to provide callers the help they need with minimal wait time.
“We know that survivors have a small window of time in which they can safely reach out to an advocate,” Ray-Jones said. “Their partner may have left the house to go to the grocery store. They may have left to go to work. They don’t have 15, 20 minutes to be on the line waiting for an advocate.”
“We want to seize that moment of opportunity when we can get a trained advocate who can work with them and get them connected to services as quickly as possible,” she said.
The donation brings the hotline nearly halfway to its $2 million goal, which will enable the organization to increase respondent capacity.
“We are hiring on a daily and monthly basis,” Ray-Jones said. “We are training every single month. We’re getting advocates on the line as quickly as we can as we are getting resources into the organization.”
Intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million people in the United States annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline works with trained advocates to guide survivors through a specialized plan that’s developed for them in their unique situation, Ray-Jones said.
It offers crisis intervention and helps connect callers with their local community resources to give them access to shelters, counseling services or legal advocacy.
It also provides everything from food and clothing to whatever else “that survivor really needs in that moment to make sure that we can create a plan to break free from that violent relationship,” Ray-Jones added.
Sept. 11 will mark one year since Petito was reported missing by her family. Schmidt and the rest of Petito’s family members remain focused on channeling their grief into helping others and will continue to provide resources to assist victims of domestic violence.
“It definitely doesn’t get any easier,” she said. “It feels the same as it did. You know, the first day we reported her missing — we’re still in that kind of shock. And I don’t know if I’ll ever, ever get over the grief, but we’re trying to channel all that into doing things for other people.”
“Everybody has a Gabby in their life, a girl or a person in their life that they love and they’re worried about,” Schmidt added. “And I just want to help those people and that’s bringing us to a better place emotionally so we can get through all of it. It really does help.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 (SAFE).