A community grieves

Tribute to Gabby Petito

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As a nation mourned the loss of Gabby Petito, so did her community, coming together in true Bayport-Blue Point fashion to remember the life and legacy of a free spirit, taken too soon.

Several tributes for the Bayport-Blue Point High School graduate took place this week. Here, each one is highlighted.

Chamber Park Tribute 

By the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Bayport-Blue Point Chamber of Commerce erected a memorial in Chamber Park at the end of Nicolls Road. It reads, “Gabby Petito Forever in our hearts…” in yellow and orange script on a sky-blue background; next to the caption is an image of Petito in a black-and-white-striped shirt, looking off camera. She’s framed by a pair of colorful angel wings. 

The banner, donated by Hollywood Banners, will remain in the park for at least another week, according to Carol Seitz-Cusack, president of the chamber, who said flags in the park will remain at half-staff as well. 

Seitz-Cusack said the park is where two communities become one community and that the memorial is meant for residents to grieve Petito together. 

“Mourning is difficult and painful, but sometimes it is necessary for us to grow in our life. The thing that makes this beautiful is that we are mourning together, and there is comfort in that,” she said. 

Seth Needelman, chamber treasurer, who organized the banner, also offered words of comfort and unity.

“Even though we’re a chamber, the whole family are customers and friends of all of ours. We want them to understand that we care and that we love Gabby,” he said. 

Soon after the banner went up, it became an active memorial with flowers, tokens and mementos left by mourners, including a colorful unicorn Beanie Boo left by Charlotte Ferraro, of Blue Point. She and her father, Nick Ferraro, bought twin stuffed animals, one for Petito and one Charlotte kept to remember her by. 

“She captured everyone’s heart. What you see on her videos, that’s her,” said Noreen Gibbons, a close family friend who visited the Chamber Park tribute on Friday, Sept. 24. “In life, Gabby was a bright, shining star—now she’s the brightest star.”

Gibbons, originally from Patchogue, was shocked by the disappearance of the little girl she’d known since birth and quickly created a GoFundMe page so she could get back to Long Island to be near the family. Petito was supposed to end her cross-country adventure at Gibbons’s home in Portland, Ore., sometime near Halloween.

Teal ribbons

As the Chamber Park memorial went up, a tribute of another kind was beginning to blossom. Teal ribbons began sprouting up on telephone poles and trees on Montauk Highway. By the evening of the vigil, more than 1,500 ribbons dotted Bayport and Blue Point, from north to south and east to west, each recalling the vibrant blue twinkle in Petito’s eyes.

It was a color picked out by her mother, Nicole Schmidt, according to Jennifer McNamara, founder and president of the Johnny Mac Foundation, who organized the ribbon tribute. As McNamara explained, the goal was to find ribbons in a lively blue color.

“There was really nowhere to get them locally,” she said.

In addition to the Johnny Mac Foundation, residents hung ribbons on their trees and mailboxes. Some residents found them on Amazon or on Paper Mart, while others, faced with the challenge of finding teal ribbon, improvised, creating their own versions with teal tulle. 

“When they look at the ribbons, they should feel support and love, and a sense of solidarity and love with the Petito and Schmidt families,” said McNamara.

Shine a light for Gabby

On the evening of Friday, Sept. 24, the streets of Bayport and Blue Point were packed with mourners from near and far, grieving in unison. Some hosted private luminary lightings in their driveways, others lit candles in Chamber Park, in front of Fairfield Courtyard apartments and in the Blue Point Nature Preserve. A luminary is a tealight candle sitting on a mound of sand in a paper bag.

Luminaries lit the night sky along Blue Point Avenue, where families stepped out of their homes to hug and say prayers with neighbors. Members of the press from as far as the United Kingdom and Germany walked alongside mourners, snapping photos and live-streaming a community in the midst of grief. 

A day before, on Thursday, Sept. 23, people purchased luminaries from Blue Point Nature Preserve. The event, originally created for Blue Point Elementary School students and their families, became district-wide after residents in Bayport began asking for candles, too.

“I felt like I wanted to do something tangible, and I felt that other people were feeling the same way,” said Nora Garvey, who organized the vigil.

A dozen volunteers poured in to help Garvey. As the luminaries sold out, they were replenished by local business owners and residents who brought bags, candles and sand.

“We were scheduled to start at 2 p.m. and at 1:30, there was already a line. There’s been an outpouring of people,” said Christian Strain, a volunteer, who wore a teal shirt in Petito’s honor.

Memorial service

A public memorial for Petito was held on Sunday, Sept. 26 at Moloney’s Funeral Home in Holbrook. First responders from local fire departments and ambulance companies attended to pay their respects, before public mourners arrived at noon.

Her father, Joe Petito, and stepfather, Jim Schmidt, delivered eulogies, broadcast live on Moloney’s website. The public was also permitted access and a line began to snake around the building.

“It’s assumed that there will be in the thousands lining up to pay respect. We’ve gotten calls from around the country,” added Danielle Hassett Moloney, funeral director. 

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