Police pause search for Brian Laundrie, boyfriend of missing 22-year-old Gabby Petito, as night falls
The first day of searching for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, who went missing while the couple was on a cross-country trip, has come up empty, police said.
Police spent Saturday searching a “vast” Florida preserve near the Laundrie family’s home after they said late Friday his whereabouts were now unknown, too. Late Saturday, police said they were suspending the search due to darkness and would begin again Sunday morning.
“Be advised that the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie are currently unknown,” an attorney for the family said Friday. “The FBI is currently at the Laundrie residence removing property to assist in locating Brian. As of now the FBI is now looking for both Gabby and Brian.”
Laundrie, 23, has not been seen since Tuesday, according to police and the family’s lawyer.
North Port Police said Saturday morning that they were searching for Laundrie in “the vast Carlton Reserve,” a 24,565-acre preserve north of his home in North Port.
More than 50 police officers accompanied by FBI agents, drones, K-9 and bloodhounds are involved in the search, police said during a briefing Saturday afternoon. Authorities took clothing from the family home Friday to help canine units, North Port Police spokesperson Josh Taylor said.
A tip from the family drove law enforcement to the Carlton Reserve, Taylor said. Laundrie’s family told police on Friday that they last saw him on Tuesday with a backpack and he told them he was going to the massive preserve, which he would frequent for hikes, according to Taylor.
The development was the latest in a case that has grabbed national attention as the couple had been traveling across the country since June in her 2012 Ford Transit and documenting the trip on social media. Laundrie returned home in her van to North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 without his girlfriend, according to police.
Petito’s parents reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not speaking with her for two weeks.
As the search for Petito continues, FBI Denver said in an update Saturday evening that authorities are “conducting ground surveys” at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in Grand Teton National Park. The FBI asked for anyone who saw the couple’s white van, with Florida license plate QFTG03, to contact the FBI.
The FBI specifically said it would like to talk to anyone who was at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area from Aug. 27 to 30 and may have seen the couple or their van. The agency said it would not comment on the specifics of the information in its investigation.
In response to the news Friday that Laundrie’s whereabouts were unknown, a lawyer for the Petito family said in a statement: “All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing.”
North Port police were also forced to clear up a rumor about finding a body in the preserve that spread on social media Saturday, saying it was “completely fake.”
Petito was last seen on Aug. 24 leaving a hotel room in Utah. The next day, she spoke to her mother, Nichole Schmidt, telling her that their next stops would be at Grand Teton and Yellowstone, Schmidt told ABC News this week.
Schmidt received two text messages from her daughter’s phone in the days after speaking to her, but it was unclear whether they were actually sent by Petito.
Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case, but he has so far refused to speak to police.
“Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito’s absence,” the attorney representing the Laundrie family, Steven P. Bertolino, said in a statement Wednesday. “In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this, and the warning that ‘any statement will be used against you’ is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel, Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on this matter.”
The North Port Police Department said Friday afternoon it had entered the family’s home, where Brian was believed to be staying, to speak with the family “at their request.”
The police later tweeted Friday, “The conversation at the Laundrie home is complete. Once we have the details, a statement will be made. We ask for calm! Please let us work through this and information will be forthcoming.”
It was after that tweet that the family lawyer released the statement saying the location of Brian Laundrie was unknown.
“We’ve been trying to reach the family all week. This is the first time we’ve had communication with them, and now they’re telling us that he’s been gone for essentially the last four days,” Taylor, the North Port Police spokesperson, said in an interview with “Good Morning America” Saturday.
Laundrie’s family told police about where he went after becoming “concerned about his whereabouts” and wanted to file a missing person’s report, Taylor told reporters Saturday.
Laundrie’s car was at the reserve but then found again at the family’s home, police said. When pressed by reporters as to how the car would have gotten back without a sign of Laundrie, Taylor said, “We are going by [the family’s] word.”
“Our goal is to locate him and bring him to North Port,” Taylor told reporters.
People had gathered outside the Laundrie home throughout the day Friday, some with bullhorns, chanting “Where is Gabby?” and calling on Brian Laundrie or the family to talk to authorities. Those people were moved from the lawn to the sidewalk as they chanted toward the house.
Brian’s sister, Cassandra Laundrie, spoke to ABC News on Thursday night, saying she had spoken to police about Petito’s disappearance but was mostly learning details from the news.
“Obviously, me and my family want Gabby to be found safe,” she said. “She is like a sister and my children love her, and all I want is for her to come home safe and sound and this be just a big misunderstanding.”
Earlier in the day, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office in Moab, Utah, said Petito and Laundrie did not appear to be connected to the murders of two women at a campground in mid-August. The sheriff’s office said on Thursday it had been in contact with Florida authorities about investigating a possible connection to the double murder.
The two women were last seen leaving a bar on Aug. 13, one day after authorities were called about a disagreement between Petito and Laundrie while they were traveling in Moab.
The couple’s white van had been pulled over after a witness called police about an altercation between the two at the Arches National Park. The couple admitted to arguing and that Petito had slapped Laundrie, according to the report. Both told police that Laundrie had not hit Petito.
There was “insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges,” Moab Police Department Chief Bret Edge said in a statement Tuesday.
ABC News’ Alondra Valle, Julia Jacobo, Joshua Hoyos and Matt Foster contributed to this report.
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