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Rifle-Wielding Cops, Crime Scene Tape for ‘Training' at Laundrie Search Site Spark Confusion

NBC New York logo NBC New York 10/15/2021 Pei-Sze Cheng and Jennifer Millman
VENICE, FL – SEPTEMBER 21: A general view of the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve as the FBI along with the North Port Police Department and surrounding law enforcement agencies continue their search for Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest after his fiancé Gabby Petito went missing on September 21, 2021 in Venice, Florida. A body has been found by authorities in Wyoming that fits the description of Petito, who went missing while on a cross country trip with Laundrie. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images) © Getty Images

VENICE, FL – SEPTEMBER 21: A general view of the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve as the FBI along with the North Port Police Department and surrounding law enforcement agencies continue their search for Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest after his fiancé Gabby Petito went missing on September 21, 2021 in Venice, Florida. A body has been found by authorities in Wyoming that fits the description of Petito, who went missing while on a cross country trip with Laundrie. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

What to Know

  • Gabby 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, and the coroner said this week she died by manual strangulation
  • The FBI's prime person of interest in Petito's disappearance, her fiancé Brian Laundrie, has now been missing for more than a month; he vanished nearly a week before Petito's body was discovered
  • Laundrie has an outstanding warrant out for him for alleged debit card fraud. His family's attorney on Tuesday called Petito's death a tragedy and said the fraud charge would be addressed when he's found
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Yellow tape bearing the words "POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS" at one of the entrances to Florida's sprawling Carlton Reserve, which has been the focal point of the search for Gabby Petito's fiancé Brian Laundrie, was placed to give a local special response team space to train Friday, North Port police said.

The FBI, with whose search NBC affiliate WFLA reported North Port police said trainees were involved, did not comment on the enhanced activity.

It was the first time the affiliate, which has been reporting from the reserve almost daily for the last month, said it has seen police tape up at the 25,000-acre preserve. No law enforcement office commented on the timing of -- and particular location -- connected to the "training" exercise in the area to which North Port police referred.

Notably, the tape was on the North Port side of the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, which provides access to the preserve and is the same location listed on a heavily redacted abandoned vehicle report involving the silver Mustang Laundrie allegedly drove to the preserve to go hiking in mid-September.

It also comes one day after a cadaver dog was called in to help with the search, though there is no indication anything of note was found in the area on Thursday.

The Pasco County Sheriff's office, which is about an hour and a half drive from the Carlton Reserve, told News 4 a day ago that the animal was provided at the request of both the FBI and the local North Port police department. A spokeswoman said her sheriff's office is the only one with that type of dog so it is in high demand.

She also said Thursday wasn't the first time her office had been asked to assist in this investigation, though it wasn't clear how many times the dog was on scene prior to this week.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: WHAT GABBY PETITO'S AUTOPSY DETAILS COULD MEAN -- AND WHY 'THE VANISHED' TEAM THINKS THIS CASE STOOD OUT

It did not return to the Carlton Reserve on Friday, WFLA reported. But law enforcement activity appeared ramped up for the second straight day. WFLA had reported Thursday was the first time this week that it spotted law enforcement activity at the snake- and alligator-infested site.

It's not clear if there's a specific reason for the heightened end-of-week activity, but the FBI and local police have been at the swamp regularly since Laundrie's parents told cops the 23-year-old said he was going for a hike.

That was the last time Laundrie's parents or anyone else saw him, at least as far as the FBI has said publicly. Citing the ongoing nature of their investigation, the law enforcement agency hasn't released any new details on the case since the Denver office issued a federal arrest warrant for Laundrie for alleged debit card fraud on Sept. 22. That was three days after Petito's remains were found in Wyoming.

The FBI also provided no updated comment earlier this week when the Teton County coroner who ruled Petito's death a homicide shared grim details from her autopsy. She was manually strangled, meaning she was killed by someone's bare hands, Dr. Brent Blue said, and likely died three to four weeks before she was found.

Investigators have said the debit card Laundrie allegedly used illegally was used during a time period when they believe Petito was already dead, though they have not said whose name is attached to the debit card the fraud charge involves.

The agency has named Laundrie a person of interest in Petito's disappearance but not specifically linked him to her death in any way. The FBI hasn't said whether it is looking at any other persons of interest but none have been named publicly.

Laundrie family attorney Steve Bertolino reiterated that point in a statement earlier this week and said the fraud allegation would be addressed when Laundrie is located. Petito's family hopes that will be soon -- and that he will be found alive.

"What happened out there? Until they find him we won't know," Petito's stepdad Jim Schmidt, who was in Wyoming to help search when investigators recovered the 22-year-old's remains, has said. "Just turn yourself in. Whatever the circumstances are, whatever happened, just go there, do the right thing, do the right thing for yourself, do the right thing for Gabby, for our family and for your own family."

The FBI continues to solicit tips by phone and online regarding the potential whereabouts of Laundrie or any other details on the couple.

Relevant information may be submitted to the FBI here or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or 303-629-7171. Photos & videos may be uploaded to: http://fbi.gov/petito.     

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