Federal arrest warrant issued for Gabby Petito's fiancé, Brian Laundrie, FBI says

·7 min read

An arrest warrant has been issued for Gabby Petito's fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who is still missing after more than a week.

A grand jury indictment released Thursday by the U.S. District of Wyoming accuses Laundrie of unauthorized use of a Capital One debit card and several accounts, spending more than $1,000. The documents do not state who the cards or accounts belong to.

The indictment charges Laundrie with unauthorized access of a device and states he used the bank accounts without permission from about Aug. 30 through Sept. 1.

Laundrie has not been charged in Petito's homicide but has been named a person of interest.

"While this warrant allows law enforcement to arrest Mr. Laundrie, the FBI and our partners across the country continue to investigate the facts and circumstances of Ms. Petito's homicide," said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider.

The development follows days of authorities searching for Laundrie in a Florida wilderness park, a search that transitioned into a manhunt Thursday with the announcement of charges against him. Investigators say Laundrie's parents told them he had gone to the Carlton Reserve park in Sarasota County on Sept. 14 after returning home from a cross-country trip to national parks without Petito on Sept. 1.

Since Laundrie returned from the trip without Petito and went missing himself, a lot has shifted in the case. The FBI searched the van the pair were traveling in and did an extensive search of his family's home in Florida. Petito's body was found Sunday and preliminary results from an autopsy concluded her death was a homicide.

A small crowd gathered for a candlelit vigil Wednesday night in Salt Lake City to "come together and celebrate the life of Gabrielle Petito," according to the event's Facebook page.

Serena Chavez, the vigil's organizer, told CNN that even though the 22-year-old woman never lived in Utah, the time she spent there and her love of nature connect her to the community.

"We won't forget about you. We won't let your light dim," Chavez said. "We will remember other women or children who are missing. Their families are devastated, and I can only imagine what Gabby's family is going through."

Petito's stepfather on Wednesday laid a cross made of stone at the site where her body was found, Fox News reported. On Petito's Instagram page, which has now reached over 1 million followers, fans mourned her in the comment sections of her photos.

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A makeshift memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito is set up near City Hall in North Port, Fla.
A makeshift memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito is set up near City Hall in North Port, Fla.

In North Port, Florida, where Petito lived before her death, a makeshift memorial near City Hall continued to grow this week as people left flowers, teddy bears and photos.

At the North Carolina restaurant where Petito once worked before moving to Florida, a table had been set up in her memory with flowers, photos and twinkling lights. The restaurant also plans to plant a tree in honor of Petito, general manager Lara Witschen told WWAY.

Witschen said Petito was "so full of life" and "had her whole life ahead of her."

"She’s not just a name. She’s not just a case. She was a person and she was very special to a lot of people and many of us here," Witschen told WWAY. "She was a good soul, a good spirit and touched so many lives. That’s what we want her to be remembered for."

A makeshift memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito is located near the North Port City Hall on September 21, 2021 in North Port, Florida.
A makeshift memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito is located near the North Port City Hall on September 21, 2021 in North Port, Florida.

What happened to Gabby Petito?

The Teton County coroner on Tuesday confirmed that human remains found Sunday at a campground near Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park were those of Petito. Her death was initially ruled a homicide, but the coroner provided no specific cause of death pending final autopsy results.

Petito and Laundrie left in July for a cross-country road trip that the couple documented on social media. While the trip was supposed to end in Oregon late next month, Laundrie returned to the couple's Florida home on Sept. 1 without Petito.

Petito's parents reported her missing 10 days later.

During a nationwide search led by the FBI, investigators accused Laundrie and those around him of withholding critical information about the case. When authorities seized Petito's van, Laundrie refused to speak with authorities, invoking his Fifth Amendment right, and instead hired a lawyer.

The search still led to Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, where Petito's body was found.

"We extend sincere condolences to Gabby’s family, friends and all the people whose lives she touched," the FBI's Denver office said in a statement.

Michael Schneider, FBI special agent in charge, said the bureau and law enforcement are dedicated to bringing Petito's killer – or killers – to justice.

The Laundrie family issued a brief statement through attorney Steven Bertolino: "May Gabby rest in peace."

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What led up to Petito's disappearance?

On YouTube and Instagram, the couple displayed the trip as a romantic adventure.

But in Utah, the Grand County Sheriff's Office released Monday a 911 call from Aug. 12 in which the caller says he drove by the couple's van and witnessed that "the gentleman was slapping the girl.

Viral body camera video released last week showed Petito in tears during a police stop on the side of a highway near Arches National Park in Utah. The footage shows a Moab, Utah, police officer speaking with Laundrie, who said friction had been building between the two for several days, though authorities at the scene took no action other than separating the couple for the night.

An arrest warrant and search for Brian Laundrie

Authorities concluded searching for Laundrie for the day Thursday in the vast Florida wetland, using dogs, drones and ATV vehicles in the treacherous terrain.

North Port police have been searching the Carlton Reserve since last week, when Laundrie's family reported him missing after they said he'd gone camping on Sept. 14 in the 25,000-acre wilderness area. They will continue their search Friday morning.

Amid the search Thursday, the FBI announced a grand jury indictment charging Laundrie with unauthorized use of a Capital One debit card and several accounts, spending more than $1,000.

The charges were the first brought in the case and came after an avalanche of public criticisms lodged toward law enforcement questioning why no one had been charged in the case. Laundrie has not been charged in Petito's homicide but has been named a person of interest.

The expansive search for Laundrie has featured drones, police dogs, an air search team and even divers, who searched bodies of water in the area, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said.

"Please be aware, the Carlton Reserve is a vast and unforgiving location at times. It is currently waist deep in water in many areas," North Port police said in a Facebook post. "This is dangerous work for the search crews as they are wading through gator- and snake-infested swamps and flooded hiking and biking trails."

Local survival expert Mark Burrow said the reserve is very wet and has little food or safe drinking water, adding that black bears, coyotes, bobcats, panthers and clouds of gnawing insects also populate the reserve.

"If he's down there in the Carlton Reserve, he's living in hell," Burrow said.

Laundrie is a white male, five feet, eight inches tall, weighing 160 pounds, with brown eyes, short brown hair and trimmed facial hair.

Anyone with information can reach out through a national hotline to receive tips at 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).

John Walsh criticizes Florida police investigation

Law enforcement has made several errors in the Petito case, John Walsh, a victims’ advocate and host of the TV show "In Pursuit With John Walsh," told USA TODAY on Wednesday.

Walsh said law enforcement should have and legally could have requested proof of life of Laundrie during the time he was allegedly at home in Florida.

"I understand the Fifth Amendment, I understand that Brian doesn't want to talk to the cops and his family doesn't want to talk to cops, as despicable as that is, but the cops could ask for proof of life," he said.

Officers should have also stationed cars on the street on either side of the Laundrie home and arranged for an unmarked car to tail anyone leaving the home, Walsh said.

– Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

Contributing: John Bacon, USA TODAY; Derek Gilliam, Sarasota Tribune

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gabby Petito case: Arrest warrant issued for her fiancé Brian Laundrie

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