Investigators in Gabby Petito case search her fiance's family home

FILE PHOTO: Handout photo of Gabrielle Petito
·3 min read

By Maria Caspani and Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) -Police and FBI agents investigating the disappearance of Gabby Petito searched the Florida home of her fiance's parents for computer files Monday, one day after finding a body in Wyoming that matched her description.

The search marked the latest turn in a story that has captivated Americans and made international headlines: the vanishing of 22-year-old Petitio during a cross-country road trip as she documented "van life" with her fiance Brian Laundrie on social media.

Local TV stations showed images of the yellow suburban house surrounded by police vehicles and marked off with crime scene tape. Officers could be seen loading cardboard boxes into the back of a police van.

Police have called Laundrie, who returned to Florida from the road trip on Sept. 1 without Petito, a "person of interest" in the case.

Laundrie's family told police on Friday that they had not seen him since the 23-year-old man left three days earlier, telling them he planned to hike in the nearly 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve, a wilderness area near North Port.

North Port police said on Monday that their efforts to find Laundrie had shifted away from the reserve.

"We currently believe we have exhausted all avenues in searching of the grounds there," North Port police said on Monday. "Law enforcement agencies continue to search for Brian Laundrie."

In court documents seeking the search warrant, North Port police said they believed a felony had been committed and were looking to seize computer storage devices and hard drives from the home.

Evidence they cited included an Aug. 27 text purportedly sent by Petito to her mother, Nicole Schmidt, which describes getting repeated calls and voice messages from "Stan," Petito's grandfather.

Schmidt found the messages suspicious because the young woman would not usually refer to her grandfather by his first name.

TRAVEL BLOGGERS SPOT VAN

Search and rescue crews on Sunday found a body in a remote area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, which an FBI spokesman said was "consistent" with the 5'5, 110-pound Petito. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

The body was discovered less than 1,000 feet (300 meters) from where travel bloggers filmed the couple's white van parked along a dirt road near Spread Creek on the evening of Aug. 27.

Members of Petito's family reported her missing on Sept. 11, 10 days after Laundrie returned home to North Port without her. Before disappearing, Laundrie had refused to speak with investigators and retained a lawyer.

Following the discovery of the body, the missing woman's father, Joseph Petito, posted a photograph of his daughter on Twitter showing her standing between two painted wings. The image was captioned with a broken heart and the words: "She touched the world."

Petito and Laundrie left her home state of New York in June, heading west in the van with plans to visit national parks along the way.

Petito posted her last photo on social media on Aug. 25. Her family believes she was headed to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming when they last heard from her. She was last seen walking out of a hotel in Salt Lake City on Aug. 24.

Last week, police in Moab, Utah, released body camera footage of an Aug. 12 encounter that two of their officers had with the couple during a traffic stop.

In the video, Petito is sobbing as she describes a quarrel with Laundrie that she says became physical at times. The officers did not detain the couple but insisted they spend that night separately, Petito in the van and Laundrie at a hotel.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Aurora Ellis)

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