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Police find 'nothing' in fifth day of searching for Gabby Petito's fiance

Reuters logo Reuters 9/22/2021 By Dan Whitcomb
a close up of a man and a woman smiling for the camera: FILE PHOTO: Handout photo of Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie © Reuters/FLORIDA POLICE FILE PHOTO: Handout photo of Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) -Police and FBI agents called off a fifth day of searching for the fiance of slain travel blogger Gabby Petito in a Florida wilderness as darkness fell on Wednesday, saying they had still found no sign of the man whom they have called a "person of interest" in the case.

Police tape is seen outside the family home of Brian Laundrie, in North Port, Florida © Reuters/SHANNON STAPLETON Police tape is seen outside the family home of Brian Laundrie, in North Port, Florida

The effort to find Brian Laundrie, 23, in the swampy Carlton Reserve will resume on Thursday, said Josh Taylor, spokesman for the North Port Police Department, adding that so far there had been "nothing found."

Authorities have not said why they are convinced Laundrie may still be in the alligator-infested reserve more than a week after he told family members he was headed there for a hike. North Port police say the family did not report him missing for another three days.

The case has gripped Americans since Petito, 22, was reported missing on Sept. 11. Ten days earlier, Laundrie had returned home to North Port without her from a cross-country road trip they chronicled in social media posts.

A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen near City Hall in North Port, Florida © Reuters/SHANNON STAPLETON A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen near City Hall in North Port, Florida

Petito's body was discovered on Sunday in a remote area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming, less than 1,000 feet (300 m) 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.

A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen near City Hall in North Port, Florida © Reuters/SHANNON STAPLETON A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen near City Hall in North Port, Florida

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.


Video: What we know about the search for Gabby Petito’s fiance (NBC News)

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'VAN LIFE'

Petito and Laundrie left her home state of New York in July, heading west on what they called a "van life" trip, with plans to visit U.S. national parks and 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.

A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen near City Hall in North Port, Florida © Reuters/SHANNON STAPLETON A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen near City Hall in North Port, Florida

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 that said only "no service in Yosemite" 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 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.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)

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