Did Van-Life Boyfriend Vanish in Gator-Infested Wilderness?

·3 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Florida police didn’t find anything Saturday as they searched a wilderness preserve Saturday for Brian Laundrie, the person of interest in the disappearance of his girlfriend, “van-life” YouTuber Gabby Petito.

“Our search of the Carlton is being called this evening due to darkness. Nothing found. Efforts will begin again Sunday morning,” North Port police wrote on Twitter.

North Port cops said Laundrie’s family told investigators they believe he entered the 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve—home to alligators, panthers, and snakes—earlier this week.

After days of silence, police finally spoke with Laundrie’s family on Friday night and learned that he had gone missing while under increasing scrutiny over Petito’s disappearance.

The FBI, meanwhile, was leading a search in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, which may have been the last place that Petito visited before vanishing.

The bureau said an array of law enforcement agencies were conducting “ground surveys” in areas that are “relevant to the investigation,” but did not elaborate further.

“This is an active and ongoing investigation, so we ask the public to maintain distance from any law enforcement personnel, equipment, vehicles, and their related activity for the safety of the public in these remote areas and to protect the integrity of our work,” the FBI said.

The 22-year-old Long Island native did not return from a cross-country van trip that she and Laundrie had documented on YouTube and other social media.

Her family reported her missing on Sept. 11 and in recent days ratcheted up pressure on Laundrie and his family to answer questions.

On Friday, after talking to Laundrie’s family, North Port police said they felt the community’s frustration by the lack of progress in the case—which has now drawn FBI involvement.

“We are frustrated too,” the department said. “For six days, the North Port police department and the FBI have been pleading with the family to contact investigators regarding Brian’s fiancée Gabby Petito.

“Friday is the first time they have spoken with investigators in detail. It is important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime. We are not currently working a crime investigation. We are now working a multiple missing persons investigation.”

Petito’s family issued a withering statement through their lawyer, Richard Stafford: “All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing.”

Over the weekend, police revealed that they finally had the ability to track Petito’s and Laundrie’s phones, and were starting the process of finding out where the phones currently are, and where they had been previously.

Investigators have already pieced together some of the couple's movements since they embarked on the trip in June.

There is bodycam video from an encounter with police in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12 after the couple got into a physical altercation following an argument. No charges were filed at that time.

Twelve days later, Petito told her family that she was leaving Utah for Grand Teton in Wyoming. Then on Aug. 30, they got a mysterious text from her phone that read “No service in Yosemite.” They suspect that she did not actually send that.

Laundrie returned to his family’s North Port home on Sept. 1—but Petito’s family said they could not get any information from him about her whereabouts.

Last week, they released a plea to the Laundrie family.

“Please, if you or your family have any decency left, please, tell us where Gabby is located,” they said in a letter read by their attorney. “Tell us if we are even looking in the right place. All we want is for Gabby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”

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