'The Gabby Petito Story': Inside Lifetime's True-Crime Movie About the #VanLife Murder (Exclusive)

ET was on set with director Thora Birch as well as stars Skyler Samuels and Evan Hall. 

After her disappearance captured America’s attention last year, Gabby Petito’s ill-fated “van life” adventure with fiancé Brian Laundrie, the suspect in her murder who later committed suicide, is now being chronicled in the Lifetime true-crime film, The Gabby Petito Story. Only ET was on set with stars Skyler Samuels and Evan Hall as well as director Thora Birch, where they talked about the responsibility of telling this cautionary tale about domestic abuse in relationships. 

“When I  was presented with the opportunity to portray Gabby I was admittedly quite overwhelmed and it was a hard decision to make,” Samuels says, explaining that “it’s a big responsibility to play someone who was alive.” 

After failing to return home following a cross country trip, the 22-year-old travel vlogger was first reported missing by her parents in September 2021. A subsequent nationwide search that quickly became headline fodder eventually led authorities as well as avid followers on social media to Wyoming, where she was last seen alive. Her body was eventually discovered in the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping area, with evidence showing that her death was a homicide.  


“I also felt it was a chance to give Gabby a voice in her own story that I don’t think the media did justice with. I think we, as a consumer media culture, came in at the tail end of a much more complicated story and so Gabby’s life is much more than the headlines that we read when all of these tragedies started to occur and I just think she deserves better.”

The actress adds, “The world should know that she was a fighter and she was fierce and there’s a lot more to her than initially displayed.” 

Just shy of one year after Laundrie’s body as well as a notebook admitting to the murder were found in the Florida marshlands of Sarasota County, the Lifetime original movie “will bring to life Gabby and Brian's doomed love story, including the warning signs that Gabby’s life was in danger.” 


“It’s important to note that this story is not about what happened. It’s about how it happened,” Samuels says. “This story really aims to look at Gabby and Brian’s relationship to the point that they got to. Like, ‘How did they end up alone in the woods that tragic evening? How did all of that happen?’ Because that’s the part that wasn’t talked about in all this media coverage of their disappearances and their deaths, and that’s really what we’re focused on.”

Furthering that point, Birch explains that the film is set within “their time frame,” adding that “it’s largely focused on their journey. It’s a road trip romance that goes horribly wrong.”

While Birch says “there are many, many, many Gabby Petitos out there” that didn’t get the same amount of media attention, what also made her disappearance interesting was how internet sleuths got involved with the investigation. “[They] tracked Gabby’s locations, and where they visited and found those Easter eggs,” the director notes, explaining that she “was always fascinated by the role social media played in discovering and learning about the truth of what eventually happened to Gabby.” 

The Gabby Petito Story premieres Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on Lifetime.