Police and FBI agents resumed their search of a swampy Florida wilderness for Gabby Petito’s fiance on Wednesday, one day after a woman’s body found in a Wyoming national park was identified as that of the missing 22-year-old travel blogger.
Police have described the fiance Brian Laundrie, 23, as a “person of interest” in the case, which has captivated Americans since Petito’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11. Ten days earlier, Laundrie had returned home to North Port, Florida, without Petito from a cross-country road trip they had embarked on together and documented in social media posts.
Laundrie has not been seen since Sept. 14, when he purportedly left his family’s home, which was also shared with Petito, in North Port with plans to hike alone in the nearby Carlton Reserve wilderness area in Florida. North Port police say they learned from Laundrie’s family only on Friday that he had been gone for three days.
A North Port police spokesman said early on Wednesday that searchers have “huddled up” and headed out again to look for Laundrie in the vast, alligator-infested reserve, which has some 80 miles of hiking trails. Other sections of the reserve are nearly impassable to humans.
Search teams had found Petito’s body on Sunday in a remote area of Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming, less than 300 metres from where, on the evening of Aug. 27, another pair of travel bloggers recorded on video what appeared to be the couple’s white Ford Transit van parked along a dirt road.
In identifying her remains, the Teton County Coroner’s Office ruled Petito’s death a homicide, but did not make the cause of her death public.
“The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms. Petito’s death is held accountable for their actions,” FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said in a statement.
Petito and Laundrie left her home state of New York in late June or early July, heading west in the van with plans to visit U.S. national parks and to document the trip on social media.
Witnesses last saw Petito on Aug. 24 as she left a Salt Lake City hotel. She posted her final photo the next day.
Petito’s family believes she was headed to Grand Teton National Park when they last heard from her. Her body was found at the edge of the park, near the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping area.
On Monday, investigators served a search warrant on the Laundrie family home in Florida. They were seen loading cardboard boxes into a van and towing away a silver Ford Mustang.
In seeking the search warrants, investigators cited an Aug. 27 text from Petito’s phone to her mother, Nicole Schmidt, which describes getting calls and voice messages from “Stan,” Petito’s grandfather.
Schmidt told investigators the text was odd because her daughter would not usually refer to her grandfather by his first name. Petito’s family has said a second text message also seemed suspicious.
Last week, police in Moab, Utah, released body camera video of an Aug. 12 encounter that two officers had with Petito and Laundrie during a traffic stop.
Petito sobs in the body-cam video as she describes a quarrel with Laundrie, and admits that she slapped him. The officers did not detain the couple but insisted they spend that night separately; Petito in the van and Laundrie at a hotel.
That same day, a caller told emergency dispatchers that he had seen Laundrie slapping and hitting Petito, according to audio of a 911 call released by police.
© 2021 Reuters