Hundreds of luminary candles glowed along a major thoroughfare in Blue Point, and teal bows were tied to street poles, as the South Shore community came out Friday night to remember Gabrielle Petito.
The candles — many in white paper bags, others burning alone — lined driveways and sidewalks along Blue Point Avenue at sunset in Petito's memory. Neighbors stood at the end of their driveways to watch.
Firefighters and neighbors who had lit candles walked along Blue Point Avenue to remember the young woman. Many of the neighbors didn’t know her but wanted to show support for the family and unity for the Blue Point community.
"We’re a small community … ," Jennifer Horton said. "It’s heartbreaking to lose such a young girl."
The death of Petito, 22, a Blue Point native, was ruled a homicide earlier this week after her remains were found Sunday in a national forest in Wyoming.
Tributes also continued to pour in at the makeshift memorial and billboard outside JT’s Cafe in Blue Point. The memorial was dotted with flowers, teddy bears and angels.
Dorothy Thompson, 64, of Blue Point, lived across the street from the Petito family and watched her grow up.
"My heart goes out to the family and the devastating circumstances the family has gone through," Thompson said. " … People come together when there’s something like this."
Thompson said she wanted to share stories of who Petito was. She said Petito was always smiling and close to her family, and that when she was in 10th grade, she won a contest for designing the logo for The Great South Bay Coalition.
While much of the country has come to know Petito only through pictures, Thompson said her smiling face captured who she was.
"She was a beautiful soul and a beautiful person. There was nothing negative about her. Take a look at her eyes and that’s who she was," Thompson said. "Tonight shines a light on her. It’s devastating what happened. This is tragic. ... I think Gabby’s light will shine on us forever."
Petito's cousins Linda and Gig Lepre left flowers at the memorial. "It fills your heart, but the heartache is there. It’s just tragic," Linda Lepre said.
"We all came together and it’s sad this is what brings us together," Gig Lepre said. "There’s no words to describe the loss."
Petito was a regular visitor to the Patchogue firehouse with her grandfather, and at the fire department’s Christmas party, said Denise Chiuchiolo, of Patchogue.
"Gabby was his girl," Chiuchiolo said. "She’s here with us and it’s a beautiful thing people are doing for this girl and amazing how this whole community did this for her."
The visitation for Petito will be held Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at Moloney’s Holbrook Funeral Home, according to the funeral home and attorney Richard Stafford.
In Florida, police searched a massive nature reserve for Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie, a person of interest in her homicide. Laundrie is wanted on a federal arrest warrant for alleged credit card fraud.
Police said late Friday they planned to continue searching the reserve this weekend.
With Nicole Fuller