Boyfriend named person of interest in disappearance of van lifer Gabby Petito
Police in North Port, Florida officially named Brian Laundrie, 23, as a person of interest in the disappearance of his girlfriend, 22-year-old Gabby Petito, on Wednesday.
In a statement posted to Twitter, North Port police wrote that Laundrie has “not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators” or provided any helpful details.
Latest on Petito case Wednesday September 15, 11:30am. Please use 1-800 CALLFBI pic.twitter.com/NpkUEjoME5
— North Port Police (@NorthPortPolice) September 15, 2021
Petito has not been heard from since late August, as she and Laundrie were traveling in the area of Teton Village, Wyoming. Their prior travels had taken them through Utah’s national parks in a 2012 Ford Transit van.
Boyfriend returned to Florida without Gabby Petito
Police said in their statement that Laundrie returned to North Port, where he and Petito lived with Laundrie’s parents, on Sept. 1, 2021. Petito’s parents did not learn she was missing until 10 days later, on Sept. 11. North Port police said they had no information that a crime had occurred in their jurisdiction.
“The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation,” North Port police chief Todd Garrison said in the statement. “The answers will eventually come out. We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved in her disappearance.”
During a late-morning press conference, North Port police spokesman Josh Taylor said investigators are operating on the assumption Petito is alive.
“We have to do that for ourselves, but more importantly for the family,” Taylor said. We want them to understand that if she’s out there, we’re doing everything in our power to bring her home but obviously we have a role to plan for the worst.”
Taylor said Laundrie has only provided them the name and phone number of his lawyer in New York.
Laundrie’s attorney explains his silence, Petito’s mother lashes out
On Wenesday, Laundrie’s family attorney, Steven Bertolino reiterated why he told Laundrie not to speak to investigators. He issued a statement saying Laundrie being named a person of interest doesn’t change the fact that his client will remain the focus of the investigation. Yahoo! News quotes the statement as saying, “Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel.” The statement reads…
“In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this and the warning that ‘any statement made will be used against you’ is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance.”
Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, released another scathing statement on Wednesday about Laundrie and his refusal to help investigators. She aimed her works directly at Laundrie, saying he was selfishly sitting in the comfort of his own home while her daughter was left alone in the wilderness. It reads, in part…
“Brian, how could you do this to Gabby? You selfishly remain silent while Gabby is all alone in the wilderness.
“Brian, you silence is reprehensible! We beg you to do the right thing and help us bring Gabby home.”
#NEW Gabby Petito’s mom issues this new statement through attorneys after learning Laundrie is a person of interest.
— Morgan Wolfe (@MorganWolfeKSL) September 15, 2021
Contact with Moab Police
Also on Tuesday night, police in Moab, Utah confirmed to KSL they were contacted on August 12, 2021 regarding an “incident” involving Laundrie and Petito which was reported by a third party.
“Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges,” Moab police chief Bret Edge said in an email.
KSL is seeking a copy of the police report from the August 12 incident via Utah’s open records law. North Port police said in their press conference they hoped to obtain the same report from Moab police on Wednesday.
In a related event, Petito’s Instagram briefly went offline on Wednesday morning. A Facebook company spokesperson later confirmed the account was removed in error and has since been reinstated.
The FBI has established a hotline and is actively seeking tips in the Petito case. The hotline number is 1-800-CALL FBI (225-5324).
Contributing: Paul Nelson