What to Know
- The FBI and North Port Police ended their second day of searching an expansive nature reserve for the 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, saying that they have "nothing to report'; the Laundrie family claims that they have not seen Brian since Tuesday
- For the first time since Gabby Petito went missing, members of the Laundrie family spoke with investigators at their Florida home Friday evening, presumably about their son's disappearance
- In a statement released late Friday night, Petito's family was not exactly sympathetic to Brian or the Laundrie family regarding their son's disappearance, stating "Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing"
Police said they ended their second day of searching a vast Florida wildlife reserve on Saturday for 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, a person of interest in the disappearance of his fiancé, Gabby Petito, saying they have "nothing to report."
Meanwhile across the country, the FBI hunted for clues about Petito's possible whereabouts in a mountainous national park in Wyoming. The coroner for Teton County — where the search is being conducted — told NBC News Sunday evening that they have found a body in the park, but there is no confirmation whose it is.
More than 50 North Port police officers, FBI agents and members of other law enforcement agencies started their search up again Sunday morning at the 24,000-acre Carlton Reserve in the Sarasota, Florida area of the Gulf Coast. Authorities used drones, scent-sniffing dogs and all-terrain vehicles in the reserve, which has more than 100 miles of trails, as well as campgrounds. Investigators took some of his clothing from his parents' home Friday night to provide a scent for the search dogs.
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"His family says they believe he entered the area earlier this week," North Port Police tweeted Saturday.
The search ended after 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Investigators in Florida were hopeful Laundrie was somewhere in the wildlife reserve. Depending on his skills, he could survive out in the reserve for some time, said police spokesperson Josh Taylor at a news conference.
"Certainly, we prepare for all different possibilities, but you know, our goal is to locate him and bring him back to North Port," Taylor said.
Laundrie's family earlier told officers that they haven't seen him since Tuesday. Police said the conversation Friday evening was the first time they'd spoken with the Laundries in detail about the case, and that the meeting came at the family's request. An attorney for the family called FBI investigators and said they wanted to talk about Laundrie's disappearance, police said.
Investigators were trying to verify the story told by Laundrie's family members that they believe the reserve is where he went with only a backpack, Taylor said. One mystery is how Laundrie got to the reserve. Family members told investigators he took his car, but the vehicle was found back at his family's home, not at the reserve.
The North Port Police Department said that they are now treating the investigation as two missing persons cases, adding that they "understand the community's frustration, we are frustrated too." The department also noted that "while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby's disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime."
Laundrie is 5'8'' with brown eyes, short brown hair and trimmed facial hair, and was last seen wearing a hiking bag with a waist strap.
In a statement released late Friday night, Petito's family was not exactly sympathetic to Brian or the Laundrie family.
"All of Gabby's family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing," the statement read.
Meanwhile, the FBI in Denver said Saturday that agents were conducting ground surveys at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, with help from the National Park Service and local law enforcement agencies, seeking clues to Petito's disappearance. Her last known contact with family members was from the national park known for its mountainous terrain.
Late Saturday night, the FBI said it was concentrating on an area of the park known as the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area, and was seeking information from anyone who stayed there between Aug. 27-30 and may have seen Petito, her partner or their van.
The parents of Petito had their first inkling something may be off after receiving a text message from her in late August, the last communication they have had with her — or at least her phone.
According to an attorney for the Petito family, the 22-year-old said in a text to her mother "no service in Yosemite." That raised eyebrows because the last time they spoke to her, Petito and her fiancé Laundrie were on their way to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming — some 800 miles from the California park mentioned in the text.
Petito's mother, Nicole Schmidt, received that text on Aug. 30, and she still doesn't know for sure who texted it. But now her husband, Jim Schmidt, is helping lead the search in Wyoming for the missing Long Island woman, who disappeared during a cross-country road trip with Laundrie. For days he's been handing out posters throughout the area near Grand Teton National Park. It was at some point during the couple's travels through that area when Petito vanished, her family believes.
"We’re just asking that anybody who has been to this area, visited, taken pictures, videos, whatever it may be — to go back and look at those and take a look, see if there’s anything that may be in there that could help us, help the police do what they have to do to find Gabby," Schmidt pleaded.
Earlier, the North Port Police said in a statement that they understood the community's frustration over the lack of progress in finding the missing woman.
“We are frustrated too," the statement said. “For six days, the North Port Police Department and the FBI have been pleading with the family to contact investigators regarding Brian's fiance, Gabby Petito. Friday is the first time they have spoken to investigators in detail."
Laundrie has been identified as a person of interest in the case.
“It is important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby's disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime,” North Port police said in Friday's statement. It added that the investigation is now a “multiple missing person” case.
At least one person, a woman on TikTok, claimed that she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie as he was hitchhiking in Grand Teton National Park on Aug. 29. In a series of videos, Miranda Baker said Laundrie stopped the couple in Colter Bay around 5:30 p.m. asking for a ride to Jackson, which she and her boyfriend agreed to give him. Baker said that Laundrie then offered them $200 for the short trip.
Once in the car, Laundrie told the couple that he had been camping for multiple days without his fiancée and that she was working on their social media page back at the van.
Shortly after, Laundrie "freaked out" when they said they were heading to Jackson Hole (which is the same place as Jackson), and had the couple pull over at Jackson Dam. Baker said he "hurried out of the car" at 6:09 p.m., telling them he would find another ride.
Baker also noted that for someone who said they had been camping for days, "he didn't look dirty, he didn't smell dirty, so that part was kind of weird." She also said she and her boyfriend did not see him with a phone, nor with any other normal camping equipment, like food and supplies. Laundrie told them he only brought a tarp to sleep on.
North Port Police confirmed that they have spoken with Baker, and are investigating her claims.
Laundrie's attorney, Steven Bertolino, said the family is hoping for Petito's safe return. Earlier in the week, police labeled Brian Laundrie a person of interest in the case, a label that Bertolino shook off as nothing more than procedure.
Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts in Suffolk County but moved from Blue Point, New York, in 2019 to live with his parents in North Port, which is about 34 miles south of Sarasota. The couple’s trek in the Fort Transit van began in July from Long Island. They intended to reach Oregon by the end of October according to their social media accounts, but Petito vanished after her last known contact with family in late August from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, authorities said.
Police video released by the Moab Police Department in Utah showed that an officer pulled the van over on Aug. 12 after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb near the entrance to Arches National Park. The body cam video showed an emotional Petito, who sat inside a police cruiser while officers also questioned Laundrie.
Ultimately Moab police decided not file any charges and instead separated the couple for the night, with Laundrie checking into a motel and Petito remaining with the converted sleeper van.
Petito is white, 5-foot-5 and about 110 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes, police said. She has several tattoos including one on a forearm that reads, “let it be.”