Social media gives glimpse inside Petito, Laundrie's road trip

The case of missing Gabby Petito took a tragic turn Sunday when police found human remains during their search for her. Petito had been traveling with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, on a road trip through several western states. Laundrie returned to his home without her on September 1, according to police, and her family reported her missing on September 11.

Posted: Sep 20, 2021 11:00 AM
Updated: Sep 21, 2021 12:00 PM


The FBI searched the family home of Gabby Petito's fiancé, Brian Laundrie, in Florida for hours Monday, a day after investigators across the country found what they believe to be her remains.

In the morning, FBI investigators searched Laundrie's parents' home in North Port as part of a 'court-authorized search warrant' related to the Petito case. His parents were escorted from the home before the search and then were brought back inside for questioning, police said.

Agents removed a number of items from the home, and a Ford Mustang convertible was also towed away.

The FBI tweeted Monday evening that the search was finished but the investigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, investigators are still searching for Laundrie, who returned to the Florida home without Petito earlier this month, declined to talk to investigators and then went missing last week. The search for him had centered on a nearby nature reserve, but investigators shifted their focus after they 'exhausted all avenues in searching the grounds there,' North Port Police spokesperson Josh Taylor said Monday.

On Sunday, human remains that officials believe to be of Petito's were found in an undeveloped camping area in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest on the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday to confirm the identity.

Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, had road tripping in a white van from New York through the American West this summer, all while regularly posting photos and stories to their social media pages with the hashtag #vanlife.

Those posts abruptly stopped in late August, though. Laundrie returned to his home in North Port, Florida, with their van but without Petito on September 1, according to police. Petito's family, unable to get in touch with her, reported her missing on September 11.

In the days since, her story has become a national obsession for many, spurring digital detectives to comb through the couple's online trail to try to solve the case. The story has also further highlighted the tens of thousands of missing persons stories that do not garner such intense interest; there were nearly 90,000 active missing person cases as of the end of 2020, according to the National Crime Information Center.

More details about an incident involving the couple emerged Monday when authorities in Utah released a recording of a 911 call where a man described a woman being slapped.

In the audio provided to CNN by the Grand County Sherriff's Office in Utah, a caller to 911 tells an operator he wants to report a domestic dispute and describes a white van with a Florida license plate.

'We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,' the caller says. 'Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.'

Police later stopped the couple.

'She touched the world,' father says

Pathologists will do a full forensic examination of the remains found Sunday to confirm the identity, said Charles Jones, FBI Denver's supervisory senior resident agent in Wyoming. Authorities also need to identify the cause of death, he said.

Even so, Petito's family has been notified of the discovery. Her father, Joseph Petito, tweeted a picture of her Sunday evening, saying, 'She touched the world.' Richard Stafford, an attorney representing Joseph Petito and her mother, Nichole Schmidt, issued a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WABC asking that the family be given space.

Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino called the news 'heartbreaking,' adding: 'The Laundrie family prays for Gabby and her family.'

Laundrie's sister also issued a statement to ABC News praising Petito for her relationship with Laundrie's nephews.

'Gabby was a fun and loving influence to 'the boys' as she always referred to them. We will cherish the time we spent with her,' Cassie Laundrie said in the statement.

The search for Laundrie

Laundrie, meanwhile, avoided authorities after returning home to Florida and has now gone missing.

Police visited the Laundrie family home after Petito was reported missing, but Laundrie's family refused to talk and instead gave authorities their attorney's information, police said last week.

Their home was searched Friday evening after Laundrie's family told police they had not seen him for days. He left home with his backpack Tuesday and told them he was going to a local nature reserve, Taylor, the police spokesperson, said Saturday.

Over the weekend, federal and local authorities conducted their search for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County, police said. The search was suspended Sunday evening and there was 'nothing to report,' North Port Police said on Twitter.

The search effort included the use of drones and bloodhounds who used articles of Laundrie's clothing taken from his home to get his scent, Taylor said in a news conference at the scene of the search Saturday. Police initially focused their search on a nearby park which spans about 200 acres before expanding to the rest of the reserve.

Laundrie is not wanted for a crime, officials have said. Still, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson said that could soon change as the investigation continues.

'One thing for sure: they're focused on him, looking for him, and when they do find him, I expect he'll be before a judge in short order,' he said.

Petito and Laundrie were on a road trip to national parks

Petito was believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming when her family was last in contact with her, North Port police said.

The two began their road trip in June with a plan to visit state national parks across the western United States, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said last week. She had been excited to share her journey with her family and others on social media, he said.

'She maintained regular contact with her family members during her travels, however that communication abruptly stopped around the end of August,' the police chief added.

The 911 call released Monday sheds new light on an encounter police had with the couple in Moab, Utah, on August 12, where officers described them as having 'engaged in some sort of altercation.'

Although the two are described in a police report as getting into a physical fight following an argument, 'both the male and female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn't wish to see anyone charged with a crime,' officer Eric Pratt writes in the report.

At the suggestion by police, the couple separated for the night, the report said, which described Petito as 'confused and emotional.'

'After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,' officer Daniel Robbins wrote in the police report. No charges were filed.

On August 24, Petito FaceTimed with her mother and told her she was leaving Utah and heading to the Teton range in Wyoming, said Stafford, the family attorney. Over the next three days, Petito and her mother exchanged texts, he said. They received one last message on August 30 that read, 'No service in Yosemite,' but her family doubts she wrote it, Stafford said.

And an affidavit filed last week for a search warrant on Gabby Petito's hard drive says her mother received an odd text from her daughter on August 27.

The text message read: 'Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.' Because the text message referred to Petito's grandfather as Stan -- something Gabby never called him -- her mother was concerned that something was wrong, the warrant states.

Following that text message, Petito's phone was no longer operational and she stopped posting anything on social media about their trip, the warrant says.

The warrant also says that during the trip, Petito had many talks with her mother via cellphone when there 'appeared to be more and more tension between her and Laundrie.'

Another potential clue came Sunday when two vloggers posted video to YouTube of what they believed to be Petito's and Laundrie's van near the Wyoming camping area.

Kyle and Jenn Bethune said the video was taken on their GoPro on August 27 in the camping area in Bridger-Teton National Forest between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Bethunes, who are from Florida, were looking for a spot to camp and thought it was 'neat' to see a vehicle with Florida plates in Wyoming.

In the video, Jenn Bethune said they thought about stopping to say hello, but the van 'was completely dark. There was nobody there.'

'The van looked like it was pretty much kind of abandoned,' Kyle Bethune added in the video narration. 'We figured maybe they were out hiking or they were just chilling inside. There was no doors open.'

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt.

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