I followed this story up-close for weeks as I became increasingly afraid that all two people I didn’t know could die here

I followed this story up-close for weeks as I became increasingly afraid that all two people I didn’t know could die here. On Aug. 1, Brian Laundrie and his girlfriend, 16-year-old Gabby Petito, vanished…

I followed this story up-close for weeks as I became increasingly afraid that all two people I didn’t know could die here

I followed this story up-close for weeks as I became increasingly afraid that all two people I didn’t know could die here. On Aug. 1, Brian Laundrie and his girlfriend, 16-year-old Gabby Petito, vanished from the 14th floor of the Red Lion building on Boston’s Back Bay (code=”14”) while walking home from an IHOP buffet. About 48 hours later, a security guard discovered the couple’s bodies on the 14th floor.

As I wrote last week, I spent a lot of time with Baltimore Sun reporter Ken LaGravenese, the boy’s stepfather, the day after it happened. The tragedy struck LaGravenese profoundly. I remember we watched him bounce his toes softly on the floor of his apartment building as he fathomed and contemplated what had happened to his son and the girl who loved him. A short while later, I saw him grasp his hands and fold them in front of him — trying, unsuccessfully, to hold back the pain of that moment.

Laundrie was a beautiful, loving young man who grew up in Baltimore. He loved the Orioles. He had dreamed of becoming a baseball announcer one day. He loved going to parties. He loved going on dates with Petito, who was a gifted swimmer. There was a lot of silly chatter in his world, but he never lost his moral compass. He graduated as valedictorian of his Columbia high school class, with a 3.8 GPA.

His memory is so precious, but it is actually not his last memory for me.

When I went through this story at work last week, it struck me that the last memory he had from his mother’s childhood might be the last moment she actually had with him. In December, 2012, Gabby and her mom, Cindy Petito, were fleeing a room at a Super 8 motel in Ellicott City, Md., because they were fleeing a snowstorm — at a time when the motels were booked solid.

Cindy helped send Brian on a highway. She thought it was safe.

It’s unclear if his mother or sister were with them. But when they stopped for dinner at Ellicott McDonald’s, Brian and Cindy met a woman named Angela Dorsey. The woman had seen the tragedy and ordered a Happy Meal.

Angela was not connected to the apartment building or to anyone involved in this case. She just happened to be hungry and going hungry when she saw them enter the restaurant, and picked up the tab.

It was no more than a bite at the Golden Arches. But according to multiple accounts in the media, Gabby returned to the restaurant and ordered a hamburger.

In the event of a tragedy, a hungry stranger’s small gift can be an important reminder that even though our backs are against the wall, we have at least some control of our own destiny. When I was working on this story, I wanted to convey this idea in a way that might have helped people realize that even the most tragic circumstances can eventually be seen as something positive.

Maybe Brian’s mother and sister, in search of answers, can, perhaps, find solace in that small act of kindness — or maybe not. Regardless, I hope people think of this as a nice reminder that there are ways to make others feel better.

Of course, we can’t eliminate every awful incident in our own backyards. But we can make a choice when it comes to the differences in our experiences. Is the poor tornado victim going to come into a convenience store at seven in the morning because she’s hungry and find a stranger trying to feed her, or just someplace that looks like the usual fast-food options? Is she a victim of circumstance, or a human being who has been treated with decency and kindness? If I had a dollar for every time I heard a story about someone pulling a stranger out of a car, I’d have about $20 million. But that’s still not enough.

Hopefully, people will choose better than Gabby and Brian.

Leave a Comment