The parents of Gabby Petito, the Blue Point native whose 2021 disappearance and homicide while on a cross-country road trip with her fiance captured national attention, have asked a Florida judge to add a Long Island attorney as a defendant to their lawsuit against the parents of their daughter’s admitted killer.
A motion filed in Sarasota County, Florida, on Tuesday seeks to add East Islip-based attorney Steven Bertolino, who represents the parents of Petito’s confessed killer and ex-fiance Brian Laundrie, to the pending legal action.
The accompanying amended complaint alleges Bertolino was aware that Laundrie had killed Petito but issued public statements that gave the impression Petito could still be alive, including one on Sept. 14, 2021, that stated: “On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Ms. Petito is successful and that Ms. Petito is reunited with her family.”
But Bertolino said Laundrie was "grieving" when he left his Florida home on Sept. 13, 2021 — the day before Bertolino released the statement expressing hope she would be found alive — according to comments he made in a televised interview later that year.
Laundrie died by suicide.
“It is believed that at the time the Sept. 14, 2021 statement was issued, the Laundries and Steven Bertolino knew that Gabby Petito was deceased, and that under those circumstances, the statement was insensitive, coldhearted and outrageous,” said Patrick J. Reilly, the Venice, Florida-based attorney for Petito’s parents, Nichole Schmidt and Joseph Petito.
Bertolino, who called the lawsuit “baseless” when it was first filed, did not respond Tuesday to a message seeking comment.
The judge in the case has not ruled on the request to add Bertolino as a defendant but previously called Bertolino’s Sept. 14, 2021, statement “objectively outrageous” in rejecting an earlier bid to dismiss the lawsuit.
Petito’s parents filed suit in March, claiming they were subjected to intentional infliction of emotional distress at the hands of Laundrie’s parents, Roberta and Christopher Laundrie, when they allegedly ignored the family’s pleas to help them locate their daughter.
The lawsuit also alleged that Laundrie confessed to his parents that he killed Petito and they attempted to help him flee law enforcement.
The suit further alleged that the Laundries went on vacation while knowing the location of Petito's remains before law enforcement discovered them in Wyoming, an assertion made without evidence.
The FBI has said Laundrie took “responsibility” for Petito’s death in a notebook found near his body. In excerpts of the notebook released by Bertolino, Laundrie admitted killing Petito, writing: “I ended her life.”
Petito last communicated with her parents in late August 2021. After weeks of a nationwide search, her body was found Sept. 19 in a national forest in Wyoming where she and Laundrie had stopped while on a cross-country road trip.