Orlando, Fla. – Police searched a vast Florida wildlife sanctuary Saturday for 23-year-old Brian Laundry, a man interested in the disappearance of his girlfriend Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, while FBIs nationwide search for clues about the missing woman Of. In a mountainous national park in Wyoming.
More than 50 North Port police officers, FBI agents and members of other law enforcement agencies searched the 24,000-acre (9,712 ha) Carlton Reserve in Sarasota, Florida region of the Gulf Coast.
Officials used drones, scent-sniffing dogs and all-terrain vehicles at the reserve, which has more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) of trails, as well as campgrounds. Investigators took some of her clothes from her parents’ home on Friday night to provide a scent for sniffer dogs.
“His family says they believe they entered the area earlier this week,” North Port Police tweeted on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the FBI in Denver said Saturday that agents with the help of the National Park Service and local law enforcement agencies were conducting a ground survey in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, seeking clues to Pettito’s disappearance. His last contact with family members was from a national park known for hilly terrain.
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.
Investigators in Florida hoped the laundry was somewhere in a wildlife reserve near Sarasota. Depending on his skills, he could survive in reserve for some time, police spokesman Josh Taylor said at a 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.
Taylor said investigators were trying to verify a story told by Laundry’s family members that they believed the reserve was where he only went with one bag. A mystery is how the laundry got into the reserve. Family members told investigators that he took his car, but the vehicle was found at his family’s home and not in the reserve.
Earlier, North Port Police said in a statement that they understand the community’s frustration over the lack of progress in finding the missing woman.
“We are also disappointed,” the statement said. “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 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,” the statement from Richard B. Stafford’s law office said.
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.
The couple’s trek in a Fort Transit van began in July from Long Island. Officials said she intended to reach Oregon by the end of October, according to her social media accounts, but Petito disappeared in late August from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming after her last known contact with family.
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.
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.