Search for Gabby Petito’s fiancé in Florida wildlife refuge suspended

Police in Florida said Monday that they would no longer be looking in a 25,000-acre wildlife refuge where they had been focusing their search for Brian Laundrie, the man named a person of interest in the disappearance of his fiancée Gabby Petito.

“The North Port Police Department currently has no plans to conduct a major search of the Carlton Reserve today,” the department said, adding they believed they had “exhausted all avenues” in the county park near Sarasota.

Investigators did not say Monday whether they were searching elsewhere for Laundrie.

Laundrie last week was named a person of interest in connection with his fiancée’s disappearance, but police emphasized Friday that he is not wanted for a crime. Police in North Port, where the couple lived, and the FBI also said that they do not know where Laundrie is.

Petito’s family addressed his disappearance, saying through a family attorney: “All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing.”

Remains believed to be those of Petito were found Sunday at a campground in Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, which Petito’s mother said she planned to visit last month, according to Charles Jones, the supervisory agent in the FBI’s Denver office.

The remains were “consistent” with Petito, 22, he said.

A forensic investigation will confirm the discovery at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area, Jones said, adding that a cause of death had not been determined.

Petito was last known to have been in Grand Teton National Park late last month, when she stopped communicating with her family, police have said.

“I don’t even know what to say. I’m at a total loss. My heart is shattered #justiceforgabby,” Petito’s brother posted on Instagram Sunday.

#GabbyPetito she touched the world,” her father, Joseph Petito, wrote on Facebook. A photo of his daughter accompanied the caption.

A statement from the family’s lawyer, Richard B. Stafford, asked for space to “allow them to grieve.” He also thanked the FBI, North Port Police Department, the Grand Teton Search and Rescue Team and police on Long Island, where the family lives.

“Your tireless work and determination helped bring Gabby home to her parents. The family and I will be forever grateful,” Stafford said.

A statement from the Laundrie family’s lawyer Sunday called Petito’s apparent death “heartbreaking.”

“The Laundrie family prays for Gabby and her family,” the statement said.

Petito and Laundrie began a cross-country tour of national parks in July, documenting their journey on YouTube and Instagram using the hashtag #VanLife. Laundrie returned home to North Port, south of Tampa, in the couple’s van Sept. 1 — 10 days before Petito’s family reported her missing, police have said.

On Aug. 12, police in Moab, Utah, responded to an allegation of a physical altercation between the two. Body camera video released Thursday shows Petito wiping away tears as she tells the responding officer that she was struggling with her mental health, and it shows Laundrie being asked about scratches on his face.

North Port officials confirmed Friday that police interviewed a woman who said in a video posted to TikTok that on Aug. 29, she and her boyfriend picked up a hitchhiker, who she later realized was Laundrie.

Laundrie offered her and her boyfriend $200 for a ride away from Grand Teton National Park but later got out of the car abruptly, the woman alleged in her account, which authorities said they have not verified.

Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, said she last heard from her daughter around Aug. 24. Petito’s last text read: “No service in Yosemite.” It is unclear whether Petito sent that text message.

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