A Florida judge on Wednesday denied a motion for a protective order that would have kept Gabby Petito’s parents from reading a “burn after reading” letter they said Roberta Laundrie wrote her son and Gabby’s killer, Brian Laundrie. She allegedly offered to help bury a body. Roberta Laundrie has said there was an innocent explanation for it, and she gave that letter to her son before he left the state with Petito.
The judge’s decision followed a hearing in which attorneys for Brian Laundrie’s parents and their New York-based attorney Steven Bertolino argued to dismiss the complaints brought by Gabby’s parents. Judge Danielle Brewer held off on making a ruling on those other matters.
“Please produce a copy of a letter written by Roberta Laundrie to Brian Laundrie, which letter states, in part, that Roberta Laundrie would bring a shovel to help bury a body, and which letter was contained in an envelope which on said envelope stated, ‘Burn after reading,'” plaintiff attorney Patrick Reilly wrote in February. “The original of said letter was delivered to Attorney Steven Bertolino by the FBI on June 24, 2022.”
Plaintiffs Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt originally sued, claiming emotional distress. They argued that Brian Laundrie’s parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, already knew that the missing Gabby was dead when they made a statement wishing for her to be reunited with her parents.
“It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming,” the Laundrie family said in a statement released through Bertolino during the missing person case. “On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.”
Gabby Petito’s parents later asserted that Bertolino also knew she was already dead. Brian Laundrie died by suicide in a park.
“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, cold-hearted and outrageous,” said a statement from the plaintiffs. “Thus, after much consideration, the parents of Gabby Petito filed a Motion for Leave of Court this afternoon asking the court for permission to file a Second Amended Complaint to add Steven Bertolino as a defendant in the action.”
Bertolino’s attorneys answered that an “expression of hope and prayer was not reckless.”
As part of the motion for a protective order, Roberta Laundrie said she gave the letter to her son before he and Gabby Petito left Florida for New York.
“The purpose of the letter was to reach out to Brian while he and I were experiencing a difficult period in our relationship,” Roberta Laundrie wrote. “Brian and I always had a very open and communicative relationship, and in the months prior to the trip, our relationship had become strained. Brian and I shared a love of stories, and some of the language in the letter was using similar phrases to describe the depth of a mother’s love.”
She also wrote that Petito had given Brian Laundrie a book, “Burn After Writing,” which the three of them often joked about. The book teaches about the therapeutic effects of writing down one’s feelings without having to share them with others.
Update: Law&Crime obtained a copy of the “burn after reading” letter.
“No matter what we do, or where we go, or what we say, we will always love each other,” Roberta Laundrie wrote in one portion. “If you’re in jail, I will bake a cake with a file in it. If you need to dispose of a body, I will show up with a shovel and garbage bags. If you fly to the moon, I will be watching the skies for your re-entry. If you say you hate my guts, I’ll get new guts. Remember that love is a verb, not a noun. It’s not a thing, it’s not words, it is actions. Watch people’s actions to know if they love you–not their words.
Angenette Levy and Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.
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