Police on Monday searched the Florida home of Brian Laundrie, the man wanted for questioning in the disappearance of his fiance, Gabby Petito, whose body was apparently discovered on Sunday in a national park in Wyoming.
Video showed at least a dozen officers, including one wearing an FBI jacket, pulling up to the house in North Port and rushing inside. The officers served a search warrant. Local media reported that Laundrie’s parents were seen getting into a police van.
Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, left Florida in July on a cross-country trek in a converted van, seeking to visit national parks in the west. They got into a fight along the way, as video released by police in Utah showed, and Laundrie was alone when he returned in the van to his parents’ home in North Port on 1 September, police said.
Interest in the case has been fuelled by the apparent disconnect between idealised images of the increasingly popular nomadic “van life” that the couple promoted on social media accounts and the more fractious reality that has emerged.
Human remains, which the FBI has indicated were most likely Petito’s, were found on Sunday in Bridger-Teton national forest on the east boundary of Grand Teton national park. The body resembled Petito’s description, but a cause of death had yet to be determined, FBI agent Charles Jones told a news conference.
Jones said Petito’s family had been notified, but that authorities would not be able to confirm that the body was her until after forensic analysis.
“On behalf of the FBI personnel and our partners, I would like to extend sincere, sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family,” said Jones
“As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We ask that you all respect their privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter.”
Petito last contacted her family to inform them she was in the Grand Teton national park in August. Authorities say she had not been heard from since.
Her father, Joseph, posted on social media an image of a broken heart above a picture of his daughter, with the message: “She touched the world.”
Petito’s family filed a missing-persons report 10 days after Laundrie returned alone. Authorities expressed “frustration” about not being able to speak to Laundrie. Police identified him as a person of interest in the case.
According to local police and the FBI, Laundrie, who had declined to be interviewed through a lawyer, went missing over the weekend. Police said they were searching a large nature reserve in Florida, among other locations.
Underlining the mystery over what occurred was the release last week by police in Utah of video of a traffic stop of the couple, that showed Petito weeping. Laundrie acknowledged that the couple had scuffled after he got into the van with dirty feet, and described the “emotional strain” of sharing the small space.
Both asked the police to treat the incident as a “mental/emotional health break” rather than domestic assault, with Petito telling police she suffered from anxiety.
The body was found after police focused their search on the Spread Creek Road dispersed camp in Grand Teton, one of several national parks Petito had said the couple planned to visit.
The search came after another couple, Jenn and Kyle Bethune, posted video describing coming across a vehicle similar to that owned by Petito and Laundrie in August.
“This is at the Spread Creek dispersed camping area. We got there and there was a huge gravel lot and we decided we wanted to try to drive more toward the back because we’d heard the views were better back here. So we were heading back on this long dirt, gravel road,” Bethune said, narrating the video posted on Saturday night.
His wife continued: “And we came across a white van that had Florida plates, a small white van. We were going to stop and say hi because we’re from Florida too, but the van was completely dark there was nobody there so we decided to continue on our way.”
Interest in a downsised “van life” lifestyle has exploded in recent years driven by social media accounts and vlogs portraying an idyllic life on the road and the business of converting the vehicles.
Laundrie had posted on Instagram how the couple were “downsising our life into this itty bitty van” decorating it with plants, small pieces of art and photos.
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