At Spread Creek campsite Andrew Buncombe speaks to those who felt a connection to 22-year-old YouTuber
Caleb Key and his mother Marianne had been determined to pay their respects to Gabby Petito ever since they heard her body had been found on this quiet mountainside.
The seven-year-old wished to leave something natural, not plastic flowers, but rather something that complemented the environment. So he fashioned a small simple cross of twigs and vine, with a base carved from a piece of bark.
And on Wednesday, the young boy and his mother worked their way through the pebble-strewn river bed where the 22-year-old YouTuber’s remans had been found, to leave their own tribute close to a makeshift cross of pebbles, fashioned in the sand a day or so earlier.
“We were going to add a little paper prayer, but we forgot to bring the tape,” said the youngster.
In the coming days, there are likely to be many more like Ms Key and her son, drawn to the Spread Creek campsite to pay their respects to Ms Petito, whose fate captured the attention of many Americans.
Already, det virker, there are plenty of people driving up to the camping area, 20 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming, just to wind down their windows, breathe in the cool air, and look at the place where a real-life drama met a tragic end.
Ms Key and her son were with the boy’s grandparents, John and Suzanne Kay, all of them originally from San Antonio, Texas, but who – like so many one encounters in the Bridger-Teton National Park – said they were “full-time RVers”. RV stands for recreational vehicle, essentially a large motorhome.
Their next stop was North Dakota, and then Minnesota, where the older Ms Kay had a job lined up processing sugar beets.
Did they think that lots of people would now come and make this location a large memorial?
“I don’t know. It’s the remoteness that might make it difficult for some,” said Mr Kay.
His wife said they knew another family of RV campers, Brian and Jenn Bethune, who found they had inadvertently filmed the White Ford Transit van used by Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie, when it was parked here on August 27. The information proving the van had been at the campsite was passed to the FBI, which praised members of the public for their help.
“We have a sort of connection with the Bethunes,” said Suzanne Kay.
The other Ms Kay said the RV community looked out for itself.
“We always try to help each other," hun sa. She said her son’s father, Scott, had died nearly three years ago. Caleb said he believed Ms Petito was with God, Jesus and his dad.
A man who gave his name as Boomerang also said a prayer for Ms Petito. På tirsdag, the FBI announced that a post-mortem examination had confirmed the remains found last Sunday had been those of Ms Petito and that she had lost her life as the result of a homicide, meaning she had been killed by another person.
Boomerang, 61, said he spent much of his time traversing long-distance trails such as the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail. His visit to Spread Creek was part of his way to “transition” back to wider society.
“I didn’t know about the whole story, but then someone told me," han sa. “So last night, I said a prayer for her spirit, basically to express remorse and to say sorry to her.”
Asked if he thought the campsite would now attract more sightseers, or those wishing to pray, han sa: “I think there will be a lot of people who want to come and pay their respects.”
Chuck Neese, sitting outside his Winnebago Minnie Winnie RV, said he believed he had been the first camper back in the site, after it was opened to the public on Tuesday.
Usually the site was packed, han sa, but when he drove in yesterday morning there was nobody there.
Det var, derimot, lots of members of the media. He said he asked a park ranger what they were all doing there.
"Du vet, he told me he thought they were all here covering something about trout fishing," han sa, ler. “I knew there was no way, that much media was covering trout fishing.”
He said eventually, a member of the press told him about the search for Ms Petito, the discovering of her remains, and the ongoing search for her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie.
Did he think that living together, closed up in a van or months on end, could add new pressure to a relationship? “Actually I think it makes people calmer.”
Mr Neese, 66, who is single and has a 35-year-old son, said he worked remotely for a group that oversaw the repair of a group of churches in Alabama.
“We have 70,000 people in our churches, even during the pandemic," han sa.
He said already lots of tourists had come to look at the river bed, han sa. He said he overhead the conversation between one couple, when a man said he wanted to take home a piece of wood he had collected. The wife did not want him to take it.
“He said ‘But it might be something connected with the story’,” Mr Neese said.
Despite working remotely Mr Neese said he had not heard anything about the disappearance of Ms Petito, or the finding by the coroner. Yet last night, after being told the gist of the story by a reporter, he read up about it.
“I went over to the gravel bed yesterday and I knelt down to pick up some rocks," han sa. “And I thought to myself, if this was last spot she was alive, it was a very beautiful place.”