Conditions May Be Improving in the Search for Brian Laundrie, Who Officials Say Was Under Surveillance Before Disappearing

Wire Service
By Wire Service
October 8USshare
Conditions May Be Improving in the Search for Brian Laundrie, Who Officials Say Was Under Surveillance Before Disappearing
In this screenshot from a police camera video, Brian Laundrie talks to a police officer after police pulled over the van he was traveling in with his girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, near the entrance to Arches National Park, Utah, on Aug. 12, 2021. (The Moab Police Department)

The search for Brian Laundrie, whose fiancée Gabby Petito was found dead in Wyoming after the pair embarked on a cross-country road trip over the summer, continues in an inhospitable Florida nature reserve that may soon prove easier to navigate for teams trying to find him, the Laundries’ family attorney says.

“It seems the water in the preserve is receding and certain areas are more accessible to search,” said Steve Bertolino. “The entire Laundrie family is grateful for the hard work of the dedicated members of law enforcement that have been searching the preserve for Brian over the last few weeks. Hopefully, Brian will be located soon.”

Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies have been looking for Laundrie since Sept. 17, when his family told authorities he left days earlier for the nearby Carlton Reserve, a vast nature reserve near the family’s home in North Port that has been the focus of the search for Laundrie for weeks now.

Laundrie returned to Florida on Sept. 1 without Petito, and after her disappearance was reported he and his family rebuffed initial attempts by law enforcement to speak with them directly.

Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie
Gabrielle Petito, 22, poses for a photo with Brian Laundrie in this undated handout photo. (North Port/Florida Police/Handout via Reuters)

Laundrie was being surveilled by police—as best authorities could do so legally—before he disappeared, North Port Police Department spokesperson Josh Taylor told CNN’s Randi Kaye Thursday. At the time, Laundrie was not wanted for arrest and Petito was still missing. Her remains were discovered Sept. 19 in Teton County, Wyoming.

Laundrie has not been charged in Petito’s death, but he now is the subject of a federal arrest warrant for unauthorized use of another person’s debit card in the days after she last spoke with her family.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito
In this screenshot from a police camera video, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talks to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park, Utah, on Aug. 12, 2021. (The Moab Police Department via AP)

Authorities never spoke with Laundrie before he went missing. When police were at the family home on Sept. 11, the day Petito was reported missing, Laundrie was not seen and there was no opportunity to speak with him, Taylor told CNN.

Additionally, authorities do not have in their possession the phones Laundrie and Petito had on their trip, Taylor said. Police searched the van used on the trip that Laundrie drove back to Florida but neither phone was there, Taylor said.

Laundrie had purchased a new phone shortly after returning home, attorney Bertolino told CNN last week. Bertolino said the FBI is in possession of the new phone. The FBI has declined to comment to CNN, citing its ongoing investigation.

Missing Traveler
In this screenshot from a police camera video, Brian Laundrie talks to a police officer after police pulled over the van he was traveling in with his girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, near the entrance to Arches National Park, Utah, on Aug. 12, 2021. (The Moab Police Department via AP)

Laundrie’s Father Assisted With Search on Thursday

Chris Laundrie, Brian’s father, was seen Thursday morning entering the Carlton Reserve, after being asked by law enforcement to accompany them on their search, according to Bertolino.

“Chris was asked to point out any favorite trails or spots that Brian may have used in the preserve,” the attorney said. Though the family provided what information they knew earlier, “it is now thought that on-site assistance may be better,” he said.

“The preserve has been closed to the public and the Laundries as well but the parents have been cooperating since the search began,” Bertolino said.

“There were no discoveries but the effort was helpful to all,” he said.

Petito
A Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputy and a Sarasota County worker direct a truck carrying excavating equipment into the Carlton Reserve during a search for Brian Laundrie, in Venice, Fla., on Sept. 21, 2021. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo)

Police on Thursday denied that a campsite had been found in the reserve during earlier search efforts. That confirmation came after a source close to the Laundrie family told CNN they were informed by investigators that police had made a discovery. The source on Thursday insisted that the Laundrie family had been told a campsite had been found.

“Is it possible that they thought that there might be a campsite out there or something they may have seen from the air, but when they got on the ground that’s not what it turned out to be. Sure, I think that’s a possibility,” Taylor, the North Port Police spokesperson, said. “Bottom line is that investigators are telling me that no campsite was found out there.”

As the search continues, Chris Laundrie and Brian’s mother Roberta believe he is still in the reserve, Bertolino said, and as a result, any public call they made for him to surrender to authorities would not reach him.

“In short, the parents believe Brian was and still is in the preserve so there was no reason to issue a plea on media that he does not have access to,” the attorney said.

Family Hopes Gabby’s Life Will Inspire Others

Petito’s body was discovered in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming less than two weeks after she was reported missing, dampening the hopes of communities nationwide that she would be found alive.

As authorities focused on the search for Laundrie, vigils were held in Petito’s honor from Salt Lake City to Wilmington, North Carolina, where a memorial was set up at a restaurant she used to work at, according to CNN affiliate WWAY.

The loss of Petito was particularly felt in North Port, as tributes were held in front of the Florida town’s city hall, and on Long Island where she grew up.

Gabby Petito
A makeshift memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito is located near the North Port City Hall in North Port, Fla., on Sept. 21, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Her father, Joe Petito, described Gabby at her memorial service in New York as a “happy girl” who loved the outdoors and made others feel welcome.

“I want you to be inspired by Gabby, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “If there’s a trip that you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you’ve got the time.

“If there’s a relationship that you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now,” he added.

Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, also gave a eulogy, telling those gathered, “Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. That’s not how this is supposed to work.”

In an interview on the “Dr. Phil” show this week alongside other members of her family, Joe Petito said he believes Laundrie is alive and hiding.

“Because he’s a coward. Flat out. I’d use some other words, but I can’t use them on your show,” Petito said.

Joseph Petito
Joseph Petito, father of Gabby Petito, whose death on a cross-country trip has sparked a manhunt for her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, speaks during a news conference in Bohemia, N.Y., on Sept. 28, 2021. (John Minchillo/AP Photo)

The CNN Wire contributed to this report

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