gabby petito

Gabby Petito Case: New Brian Laundrie Search Yields Nothing; Hard Drive May Have Clues

North Port police had said they exhausted all avenues of searching for Brian Laundrie in Florida's 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve and suspended the effort Monday; a day later, they were back -- with a new plan of attack

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What to Know

  • FBI agents and police swarmed Brian Laundrie's Florida home Monday as they investigate the disappearance of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito. Investigators have also found a hard drive in the couple's van
  • Laundrie returned home alone in that van on Sept. 1; he has been missing for a full week. Police resumed their search Tuesday of a vast Florida nature preserve where he allegedly said he was going to hike
  • Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11, months after the couple left on their cross-country trek; the body found in a Wyoming national park Sunday is confirmed to be her

Police in North Port, Florida, have concluded their search for Brian Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve for Tuesday, while a coroner confirmed the body found in a Wyoming park over the weekend is that of Gabby Petito. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Petito vanished on a cross-country road trip with Laundrie, her boyfriend. Her mother reported her missing on Sept. 11, though the investigation has shown Laundrie returned home alone in their van 10 days before that. It also found Petito's phone had been off since Aug. 27. And now Laundrie is missing, too.

He reportedly went to the nature preserve a week ago to go hiking. He hasn't been seen since and remains a person of interest in Petito's disappearance. A day ago, North Port police had said they felt they had exhausted all avenues of searching the nature reserve.

It wasn't immediately clear what sparked the renewed search on Tuesday, but police for the first time called the case an "FBI-led criminal investigation" as they announced their plans to approach the sprawling preserve from a different side.

Law enforcement ended their search of the area for the day around 7 p.m., saying that "nothing of note" had yet been found. A search will resume once again on Wednesday. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission is also assisting in the search.

Late Tuesday night, both the Sarasota County Sheriffs Office and North Port Police had to shoot down rumors circulating that they had put Laundrie in custody. The sheriffs office said they have "received reports of 'suspected sightings' however, none have been accurate." North Port Police said "rest assured that when Brian is found, we will be more than happy to let everyone know."

Do you know anything that can help investigators? Call 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit tips online here

"A weekend ground search and aerial search Monday of the 25,000-acre preserve has yet to yield any answers, but we must press on," North Port police said earlier Tuesday.

"Please be aware, the Carlton Reserve is a vast and unforgiving location at times. It is currently waste [sic] deep in water in many areas. This is dangerous work for the search crews as they are wading through gator and snake-infested swamps and flooded hiking and biking trails."

"This is an FBI-led criminal investigation and North Port Police are assisting our federal partner in any way we can to bring this investigation to a close," they added.

The mystery around the disappearances of both Petito and Laundrie has captured national headlines and drawn massive law enforcement attention in multiple states.

A day ago, investigators turned their attention to Laundrie's home in Florida. At least a dozen FBI and other law enforcement officers swooped in for a search. They removed several boxes and towed away a car that neighbors said was typically used by Laundrie’s mother. Local media said his parents were seen getting into a police vehicle at one point but they were later permitted back inside their home.

Laundrie, 23, and Petito had been living with his parents at the North Port home before the road trip.

The young couple had set out in July in a converted van to visit national parks in the West. They got into a fight along the way, and Laundrie was alone when he returned in the van to his parents’ home on Sept. 1, police said, 10 days before Petito was reported missing by her mother.

A day after Gabby Petito's body was found in Wyoming, there were stunning new developments in the missing person case that has been drawing nationwide attention. Pei-Sze Cheng reports from Florida, and Sarah Wallace has the latest from Wyoming.

This week, Petito's father, Joseph, posted on social media an image of a broken heart above a picture of his daughter, with the message: "She touched the world."

In an interview broadcast Monday on TV's “Dr. Phil” show, Joseph Petito said Laundrie and his daughter had dated for 2 1/2 years, and Laundrie was “always respectful.” During the interview, which was recorded before the apparent discovery of his daughter's body, Joseph Petito said the couple had taken a previous road trip to California in her car and there were no problems.

“If there were, I would have discouraged going on the trip,” he said.

The father said his family began worrying after several days without hearing from her.

“We called Brian, we called the mom, we called the dad, we called the sister, we called every number that we could find,” Joseph Petito said. “No phone calls were picked up, no text messages were returned.”

From the van the couple traveled in together, investigators found and have gained permission to access a hard drive containing evidence connected to Petito's disappearance, according to a filing of a search warrant in Florida.

It's not yet clear what that hard drive might contain but the search warrant filing said investigators believed there was probable cause it had "evidence relevant to proving that a felony has been committed," according to the document.

Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts who met while growing up on New York's Long Island. His parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles south of Sarasota. Petito lived with them for about a year, her family has said.

NBC New York's Ida Siegal reports.
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