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
Investigators have added a cadaver dog as part of their ongoing, exhaustive search of the 25,000-acre Florida preserve where Gabby Petito’s fiancé Brian Laundrie allegedly said he was heading for a hike the day he disappeared, the assisting sheriff’s office confirmed to News 4 on Thursday.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, which is about an hour and a half drive from the Carlton Reserve, which has been the focal point of the FBI’s hunt for Laundrie since he vanished a month ago, said the human remains detection dog was requested.
A spokeswoman said the animal was provided at the request of both the FBI and the local North Port police department. She said her sheriff’s office is the only one with that type of dog so it is in high demand, adding that Thursday isn’t the first time her office has been asked to assist in this particular investigation.
The intensity of the Carlton Reserve search appeared to ramp up accordingly. NBC affiliate WFLA reported that multiple law enforcement vehicles were spotted on the Venice end of the reserve Thursday morning, marking the first time this week the affiliate’s crews had seen activity at that entrance. There was a flurry of renewed activity last week, too, when Laundrie’s father assisted in person for the first time.
Nothing has been found yet, but Laundrie family attorney Steve Bertolino said last week, when asked about the father’s involvement, that the snake- and alligator-infested water in the preserve was receding: “Hopefully, Brian will be located soon.”
The question atop all minds, of course, is whether Brian Laundrie was ever there in the first place — and ultimately, if he is still alive. Laundrie’s parents told authorities they last saw their son on Sept. 14, when he said he was going for a hike in the Carlton Reserve. Recently, Bertolino said the date may actually have been Sept. 13.
Investigators have been scouring the unforgivable terrain of that area from multiple approach points for the last month. As a retired U.S. marshal who tracked fugitives explained to News 4, the FBI has to thoroughly vet every lead before the agency feels comfortable moving on with its search. The Carlton Reserve appeared to be the most significant one they had, at least as far as the public has been aware.
Other reported sightings have flooded law enforcement offices in multiple states — from Montana to Alabama to North Carolina. No tips have panned out so far.
Laundrie does have an outstanding arrest warrant out for him — one involving a single count of debit card fraud. Investigators haven’t said whose card Laundrie is accused of illegally using, but they have said they believe it was used during a time that Petito was already dead. Her remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 19.
Earlier this week, the Teton County coroner who ruled Petito’s death a homicide said the 22-year-old woman from Long Island had been strangled and likely died three to four weeks before her body was found. News 4 obtained documentation that showed Petito had been strangled manually, meaning with someone’s hands.
The Jackson County (Wyoming) coroner announces the results of the autopsy of Gabby Petito’s body.
DNA was found on her body, Dr. Brent Blue said in Tuesday’s announcement, but he declined to elaborate further on any autopsy details, citing state protocol. He referred additional questions to the FBI, which hasn’t issued an updated statement.
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.
Shortly after Blue shared the grim autopsy details, Bertolino issued a statement reiterating that point — that Laundrie has only been named a person of interest in her case. He said the fraud charge will 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 helping 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.
It has been 16 days since Gabby Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, allegedly told his parents he was going for a hike in a sprawling Florida nature preserve. It’s set of a massive manhunt – but one seasoned US Marshal says he doesn’t think Laundrie was ever there. This week on The Debrief, retired U.S. Marshal Craig Caine gives his take.