Police in Florida on Saturday searched a vast wildlife sanctuary near the Gulf Coast for Brian Laundry, 23, a man interested in the disappearance of his girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito.
Dozens of North Port police officers, FBI agents and members of other law enforcement agencies searched the 24,000-acre (9,712 ha) Carlton Reserve in the Sarasota, Florida area. The reserve has more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) of trails, as well as camping grounds.
“His family says they believe they entered the area earlier this week,” North Port Police tweeted on Saturday.
Investigators expected the laundry to be somewhere in a wildlife sanctuary. Depending on his skills, he could survive in reserve for some time, police spokesman Josh Taylor said at an afternoon news conference.
“Sure, we prepare for all the different possibilities, but you know, our goal is to find him and bring him back to the northern port,” Taylor said.
Laundry’s family had earlier told officials that they had not seen him since Tuesday. Police said Friday evening’s conversation was the first time they had spoken in detail about the matter with Laundry, and that the meeting took place at the request of the family. Police said a lawyer for the family called FBI investigators and said they wanted to talk about Laundry’s disappearance.
“While we understand the frustration of the community, we are also disappointed,” North Port Police said in a statement. “For six days, the North Port Police Department and the FBI have been requesting the family to contact investigators regarding Brian’s fiancée Gabby Petito. Friday marks the first time he has spoken to investigators in detail.”
Laundry and Petito, 22, set off on a cross-country trek in a converted van to visit national parks in the US West in July. Police said Laundry was alone when he drove the van back to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida on September 1. Pettito’s family filed a missing report with police in Suffolk County, New York on September 11.
Laundry has been identified as an interested person in the matter.
“It is important to note that Brian is a person interested in Gabby’s disappearance, but he is not wanted for the crime,” North Port Police said in a Friday statement. It added that the investigation is now a case of “multiple missing persons”.
Steven Bertolino, an attorney for Brian Laundry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on Friday night.
Lawyers for the Petito family issued a statement saying the laundry was not “missing.”
“All of Gabby’s family wants the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing,” said the statement from Richard B. Stafford’s law office.
Earlier in the week, Petito’s family pleaded with the laundry family to tell them where their son last saw them. Petito and Laundry were childhood sweethearts who met while growing up in Long Island, New York. Her parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Sarasota.
Police video released by the Moab Police Department in Utah showed an officer speeding the van on August 12 and hitting a curb near the entrance to Arches National Park. Body cam video showed an emotional Petito, sitting inside a police cruiser, while officers also questioned the laundry.
Laundry says the couple in the video got into a minor scuffle that began when he climbed into the van with dirty feet, and said he didn’t want to level domestic violence charges against Petito, which the authorities decided. that he was the attacker.
Ultimately with Moab police deciding not to file charges and instead separating the couple for the night, Laundry checked into a motel and Petito remained with the converted sleeper van.
Official talks with the family came on Friday after North Port Chief Todd Garrison publicly expressed his dismay at Brian Laundry’s lack of help on Wednesday, requesting Laundry’s attorney to arrange talks. “Two people went on a journey and one person returned!” It was said in an earlier tweet by the police chief.
His trek in the Fort Transit van began from Long Island in July. Officials said they intended to arrive in Oregon by Halloween, according to their social media accounts, but Petito disappeared from Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park in late August after her last known contact with family.
In other developments, a sheriff in Utah said Friday that detectives have determined there is no link between Petito’s disappearance on the trip and the still-unsolved murder of two women who were found fatalities at a camp near Moab, Utah. was fatally shot. The bodies of two women, 24-year-old Kylan Schulte and 38-year-old Crystal Turner, were found six days after a traffic stop involving Laundry and Petito.
Utah’s Grand County Sheriff Steven White said in a news release without elaboration that the two cases were unrelated.