What to Know
- The FBI's prime person of interest in Gabby Petito's disappearance, her fiancé Brian Laundrie, has now been missing for more than three weeks
- The 23-year-old vanished after allegedly telling his family he was going for a hike in a Florida nature preserve in mid-September; his parents have called any rumors they helped him flee "just wrong"
- Petito's body was found in a remote area of a Wyoming park the couple visited last month; her death has been ruled a homicide, though exactly how she died is a question pending additional forensic study
The weeks-long search for Gabby Petito's fiancé Brian Laundrie, who is the FBI's prime person of interest in her disappearance, at Florida's sprawling Carlton Reserve appeared to ramp up in intensity Wednesday, though it wasn't clear why.
The FBI launched a more scaled-back, highly targeted approach when it took the reins from North Port, Florida, police as the lead investigative agency in late September, well after Petito's remains were recovered and acres of terrain scoured.
Their investigation at the Carlton Reserve, where Laundrie had allegedly told his parents he went for a hike in mid-September, has been ongoing, but local NBC affiliate WFLA reported a more active police presence — including unmarked law enforcement SUVs — there Wednesday than has been seen in the past week.
The Laundrie family attorney said that Brian's father, Chris, was asked to assist law enforcement in their search of the preserve on Wednesday, but he was unable to do so.
"Since the preserve has been closed to the public Chris has not been able to look for Brian in the only place Chris and Roberta believe Brian may be," the statement from the lawyer read. "Unfortunately North Port police had to postpone Chris' involvement but Chris and Roberta are hopeful there will be another opportunity to assist."
Laundrie's parents initially told investigators that their son told them he was going on a hike in the alligator- and snake-infested 25,000 preserve on Sept. 14. A day ago, the family's lawyer said the Laundries now believe Brian had left to go hiking a day earlier. They didn't report him missing, though, until Sept. 17.
He had taken a silver Mustang often driven by his mother to the preserve. The parents allegedly went to look for him on Sept. 14 and found the vehicle but not their son. They drove it back home on Sept. 15. It was taken by investigators for analysis and later returned.
“The Laundries were basing the date Brian left on their recollection of certain events,” attorney Steven Bertolino said. “Upon further communication with the FBI and confirmation of the Mustang being at the Laundrie residence on Wednesday, Sept. 15, we now believe the day Brian left to hike in the preserve was Monday, Sept. 13.”
According to WFLA, local police confirmed Wednesday that the Mustang was tagged with an "abandoned vehicle" note on Sept. 14, the initial date Laundrie's parents had said Brian went to the Carlton Reserve. The location listed on a heavily redacted incident report is an address for the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, WFLA reports, which is about a 20-minute drive from the Carlton Reserve.
That abandoned vehicle notice, timestamped 2:24 p.m. on Sept. 14, according to WFLA, would suggest that the Mustang had been abandoned at the same location for at least a day. WFLA reports it would take five days before police towed an abandoned car. It was never exactly clear, at least publicly, where the Laundries said they picked up the Mustang when they couldn't find Brian at the preserve.
The family has consistently said they had nothing to do with their son's disappearance, calling any rumors that they may have helped Brian Laundrie evade law enforcement "just wrong." Through Bertolino, they have called any speculation from those uninvolved — like Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman or a retired U.S. Marshal who told NBC New York that he thought Brian Laundrie was still alive — "just guessing."
Where Is Brian Laundrie?
More coverage on the Gabby Petito case that has captivated the nation
Calls have flooded law enforcement offices from Montana to Canada to Alabama, and most recently North Carolina as the public aims to help authorities solve the mystery of what happened to Laundrie since his fiancé's remains were recovered.
One of those 911 calls was released late Monday. It was made by a man who claimed he saw Laundrie driving a newer model white truck, and that the two spoke. The caller said that the man he believed to be Laundrie drove up and was waving his arm out of his window, seemingly to ask the man to slow down and talk.
The caller said the man in the truck "was talking wild, he said that his girlfriend loved him and that he had to go out to California to see her." He asked how to get to California before taking off. The caller said he wasn't sure what Laundrie looked like, but after looking at a photo, said he was "99 percent sure that was him."
The local North Carolina sheriff's office says it got multiple calls like that one this past weekend. All of them reported possible Laundrie sightings along parts of the Appalachian Trail, according to media reports. None of them have panned out.
"We will continue to respond and fully investigate all calls for service related to the nationwide search for Mr. Laundrie within our jurisdiction," the Haywood County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post.
There have been no confirmed sightings of Laundrie since he disappeared, at least as far as the FBI is publicly aware.
Laundrie returned to his Florida home alone on Sept. 1 in the white van he and Petito had taken on their months-long cross-country road trip.
Petito's mother reported her daughter missing 10 days later, on Sept. 11, which she told Dr. Phil Tuesday is the day she learned the van had returned without her.
It took a little more than a week for investigators to find Petito's remains in a Wyoming park she and Laundrie had visited in late August, which was around the time the 22-year-old from Long Island was last reported seen alive. Phone records show her cell had been turned off since about Aug. 27.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: IS BRIAN LAUNDRIE STILL ALIVE?
Petito's death has been ruled a homicide, meaning she was killed by another person, but how exactly she died remains a question pending further study.
It could take weeks before final autopsy results are issued — and possibly longer before the public is permitted to be aware of the findings.
Laundrie does have an outstanding federal arrest warrant out for him. It charges him with a single count of unauthorized debit card usage but also allows law enforcement to hold him for a period of time if they can find him.
The FBI continues to solicit tips by phone and online regarding the potential whereabouts of Laundrie or any other details on the couple.