Mystery surrounding the whereabouts of 22-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito deepened late on Friday, after police in Florida said they were working with the FBI to locate 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, Petito’s fiance who is described as “a person of interest” in her disappearance.
Petito and Laundrie had been on a “van life” trip across the south-western US, living in their vehicle. Petito’s family reported her missing last week, after Laundrie returned to Florida alone.
Police in North Port said Laundrie’s family told officers they had not seen him since Tuesday, but had not told authorities he was missing for three days. The conversation on Friday evening, police said, was the first time they had spoken to Laundrie’s family in detail, and came at the family’s request. An attorney for the family called FBI investigators and said they wanted to talk, police said.
In a separate statement, police said Laundrie was a person of interest but was not wanted for any crime. The investigation was now a “multiple missing persons” case, they said.
In a statement late on Friday, Richard B Stafford, an attorney for the Petito family, said: “All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing.”
On Thursday, police in Utah released video showing 22-year-old Petito and Laundrie after an argument in the tourist town of Moab. Authorities and Petito’s family then appealed to Laundrie’s family to cooperate with investigators.
The body-cam footage, dated 12 August, shows an officer pulling over the van in which Laundrie and Petito were travelling after it was seen speeding and hit a curb near the entrance to Arches national park. Petito is visibly upset.
“We’ve just been fighting this morning,” she tells an officer. “Some personal issues.”
She adds: “Some days, I have really bad [obsessive compulsive disorder], and I was just cleaning and straightening up and I was apologising to him, saying that I’m so mean because sometimes I have OCD and get frustrated.”
Laundrie says the couple got into a minor scuffle that began when he climbed into the van with dirty feet. He says he does not want to pursue a domestic violence charge against Petito, who officers deem to have been the aggressor.
“I’m not going to pursue anything because she is my fiancee and I love her,” he says. “It was just a squabble. Sorry it had to get so public.”
Moab police separated the couple for the night, Laundrie checking into a motel and Petito remaining with the van.
A month later, Petito’s family reported her missing. She is now the subject of a nationwide search. Before his family reported him missing, Laundrie had not cooperated with investigators.
The case has attracted intense attention, in part due to Petito’s large following on Instagram. Her last post was dated 25 August.
Investigators became frustrated by Laundrie’s refusal to meet. “Two people left on a trip and one person returned!” the North Port police chief, Todd Garrison, tweeted on Wednesday.
The couple were childhood sweethearts on Long Island then moved to Florida in 2019 to live with Laundrie’s parents in North Port, about 34 miles south of Sarasota. They set off on their “van life” trip in July, planning to reach Oregon by Halloween, according to their social media accounts.
Authorities have said Petito’s last known contact with her family was in late August and from Grand Teton national park in Wyoming.
Laundrie drove the Ford Transit van back to Florida on 1 September. Petito’s family filed a missing persons report with police in Long Island and released a letter to Laundrie’s parents.
“We believe you know the location of where Brian left Gabby,” the letter said. “We beg you to tell us. As a parent, how could you let us go through this pain and not help us? As a parent, how could you put Gabby’s younger brothers and sisters through this?”
Laundrie’s attorney, Steven Bertolino, said the family was hoping for Petito’s safe return, but he had asked them not to speak to investigators.
Garrison, the police chief, told ABC: “I can’t speculate as to why he’s not talking, but he has the pieces to the puzzle that we need to find Gabby.”
Laundrie’s sister, Cassie Laundrie, said she wanted Petito to be found and for this “to be just a big misunderstanding”.
Garrison told reporters the investigation remains a missing persons case. No searches had been initiated because authorities were unclear where they should begin to look.
“We’re still trying to nail down geographic areas,” Garrison said. “There’s a lot of information we are going through. Our focus is to find Gabby.”
At the same news conference, Petito’s father, Joe Petito, said: “Whatever you can do to make sure my daughter comes home, I’m asking you to help. Nothing else matters right now.”
Police in North Port said they had not ruled out a connection with the murder of two women at a campsite near Moab in August, though they did not know of any link.
The bodies of Kylen Schulte, 24, and Crystal Turner, 38, were found on 18 August. The women told friends they feared a “creepy man” might harm them.