(New York) — A large crowd of mourners packed a public funeral service for Gabby Petito, the slain 22-year-old travel blogger, on Sunday afternoon in Long Island, near where Petito grew up in Blue Point, New York.
The service was live-streamed online and showed the full length of a wall in a chapel at Moloney's Holbrook Funeral Home, decorated with photos of Petito. An altar at the front of the chapel was covered in flowers and memorial candles.
Petito's parents and relatives sat in the front row of the chapel accepting condolences from friends, family and strangers.
A prayer card handed out to mourners contained a poem title "Let it be," a phrase Petito had tattooed on her arm.
"Do not grieve for me for I am free. I am traveling a path the Lord has taken me," the poem reads. "Be not burdened with times of sorrow. I wish for you the sunshine of tomorrow. Perhaps my time seemed too brief. Do not lengthen it with undue grief. Lift up your hearts and share with me the memories that will always be.”
During the service, Petito's father, Joseph, and her stepfather, Jim Schmidt, former chief of the Blue Point Fire Department, spoke.
Joseph Petito described his daughter as having "ridiculously blue eyes" and told mourners that "her nature was always to smile and treat everybody kind.”
“I want you to take a look at these pictures, and I want you to be inspired by Gabby," Petito said. "If there’s a trip you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you have the time. If there is a relationship that you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now."
Jim Schmidt added that throughout his career as a firefighter he has had to arrange funerals and give eulogies but added, “not one of them has prepared me for this moment."
He pointed out a photo behind him of Petito as a little girl and said, "I still see Gabby as this."
"Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. This is not how life is supposed to work," Schmidt said.
He added, "Gabby, at 22 years old, helped teach me that you can always make money but you can’t make up for lost time. Gabby loved life and lived her life every single day. She is an example for all of us to live by, to enjoy every moment in this beautiful world as she did. To love and give love to all like she did.”
Petito's mother spoke out the night before the funeral with a heartfelt message to supporters.
Nicole Schmidt posted a message on Facebook late Saturday night following a 12-day silence.
"As I scroll through all the posts, my heart is full of love," Schmidt wrote. "I wish I could reach out and hug each and every one of you!!! Your support has been so overwhelming, and we are so filled with gratitude."
Schmidt also posted a series of family photos of her daughter as well as images of Petito traveling, telling supporters, "Please know what you are all doing for us does not go unnoticed, and with all of you by our side, we will get #justiceforgabby."
Petito's body was discovered a week ago Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming after her family reported her missing on Sept. 11. She vanished while on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, who authorities are still searching for and have named a "person of interest" in her death, which has been ruled a homicide.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Laundrie stemming from his alleged unauthorized use of a debit card to withdraw $1,000 during the period in which Petito was missing, according to the Associated Press. The FBI has not disclosed whose card Laundrie allegedly used.
Joseph Petito announced Saturday the creation of The Gabby Petito Foundation, which he said will provide resources and guidance to families of missing children.
"No one should have to find their child on their own," he wrote on Twitter, "we are looking to help people in similar situations as Gabby."
A vigil was held Saturday night in Florida for Petito.
People who were touched by her story gathered in North Port, Florida, outside the Laundrie home, attempting to convey a message to the family that they want justice for Petito.
Residents of Blue Point honored Petito on Friday night by lining streets in the city with thousands of memorial candles.
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