Gabby Petito's family spreads message of hope during painful holiday season

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The family of Gabby Petito is working to turn a devastating personal tragedy into positive change.

The young woman was found killed after vanishing on a trip last summer in a case that garnered national headlines and ended with the apparent suicide of her fiance, Brian Laundrie.

Now, the family is opening up about healing during the holiday season, speaking out to "Good Morning America."

When Gabby's family goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, they know waking up without their daughter for the first time on Christmas day, like every other day, will hurt.

"You look back and you remember those moments and how great they were," stepfather Jim Schmidt said. "But it's tough every day."

The 22-year-old Petito went missing during a cross country trip with Laundrie. She was later found dead near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Now, her parents are turning tragedy into purpose

Gabby Petito disappearance timeline: Everything we know
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Gabby Petito was traveling with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, in a cargo van the two had outfitted as a makeshift recreational vehicle for a months-long cross-country road trip when she mysteriously disappeared.


"I don't want to see this happen to another another person," mom Nichole Schmidt said. "I know that we can't save everybody, but I think that this just awareness alone is is giving people the strength."

Gabby's parents Joe and Nichole and stepparents Tara and Jim established the Gabby Petito Foundation with a mission to fight domestic violence and find missing people, already donating $50,000 to three similarly devoted organizations including the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The hotline says in a little over two months, they've been able to help over 300 people who contacted them after visiting the Petito Foundation website.

"We're trying to make those changes and help areas where there are voids that need to be filled," Joe Petito said.

The families think any impact they can make, no matter how big, will be helpful.

"If we can even be a small piece of support network for somebody else in a similar situation and try to just help them get through it, it goes a long way," Jim Schmidt said.

The family had to decide whether to choose privacy or advocacy after their nightmare experience.

"We have our days where we just need to shut down and take a moment," Nichole Schmidt said. "But the whole goal is prevention and helping other young people."

There's still a quest for closure they know will never come.

"You're not going to get it," Joe Petito said.

MORE: Police body cam video shows Gabby Petito, boyfriend after 911 call
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Police in Moab released a body camera video of the interaction between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.


Gabby's death left a hole in their lives, but still, they try to focus on inspiration.

"I want her to know that I'm proud of her," Nichole Schmidt said.

And even in death, she is helping others.

"She's doing a lot of good," Joe Petito said. "She's touched a lot of people."

They are driven by the hope that their efforts may help save at least one if not many lives.

"We hope that we save lives, and in Gabby's name and because of what happened to her, that gives us a lot of hope," Nichole Schmidt said.

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