Police Continues Investigation Into Petito Death

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gabby petito
A makeshift memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito is located near City Hall on Sept. 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida.

The nationwide investigation into the death of social media blogger Gabriel "Gabby" Petito intensified this week after her body was recovered by law enforcement in a remote end of a Wyoming national park. Petito's fiance, Brian Laundrie, who traveled with her to the Rocky Mountain region, is a person of interest in the case and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Petito, 22, embarked on the cross-country road trip with Laundrie, 23, on July 2 in a 2012 Ford Transit Connect that was converted into a camper for what was expected to be a four-month journey. The couple documented their travels on social media, where Petito had hundreds of followers.

Here are eight important facts that have emerged about the case.

The Timeline Of Petito’s Disappearance Remains Unclear

Petito's mother Nicole Schmidt reported her missing on Sept. 11 after weeks of no communication. She made her call to authorities after learning that Laundrie returned alone to his hometown of North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 in Petito's Ford Transit.

Petito had reportedly been seen on Aug. 24 in Salt Lake City, where she had checked into a hotel. A day later, Schmidt spoke on the phone to Petito, who said that she and Laundrie were in Wyoming.

Three days later, Schmidt said that she received a "weird" text message from Petito about her grandfather trying to call and text her. Petito had referred to him as "Stan," which left Schmidt suspicious because Petito had never referred to her grandfather by his first name. Schmidt said she suspects that the exchanges were not with Petito.

Laundrie Is A Person Of Interest In Her Disappearance

Law enforcement is keen to learn what Laundrie knows about Petito’s final days. Laundrie is the last person to have seen Petito alive.

Laundrie had not been forthcoming with information. As the Petito case grew, a series of revelations drew attention to whether he was involved in her death.

On Aug. 12, Moab City police in Utah received a 911 call of a domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie. A witness reported that they saw Laundrie physically assaulting Petito before driving off without her.

The responding officers caught up with the couple. They can be seen being interviewed in bodycam footage released by the department. Petito admitted to hitting Laundrie and did not accuse him of violence.

Laundrie told an officer that he had suggested to Petito that they cool off after the incident. The officer later filed a report documenting the situation as a "mental health crisis."


This August 12, 2021, still image from a police bodycam released by the Moab City Police Department in Utah, shows Gabrielle Petito speaking with police as they responded to an altercation between Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie
This August 12, 2021, still image from a police bodycam released by the Moab City Police Department in Utah, shows Gabrielle Petito speaking with police as they responded to an altercation between Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie
Photo: Moab City Police Department / Handout

Over a week later, Petito and Laundrie reportedly got into another altercation outside a restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming. A couple told CNN that they witnessed Petito "in tears" and that Laundrie argued angrily with restaurant staff. This incident reportedly took place on Aug. 27 when Petito's mother said she last received a text message from her daughter.

On the evening of Aug. 29, a couple claimed they spotted Laundrie hitchhiking at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park. He allegedly offered them $200 for a ride, but became "agitated" and demanded to be dropped off early after they said they were going to Jackson Hole. During the ride, he claimed to have been camping with his fiance, who he said "was working on their social media page back at their van."

Three days later, Laundrie was back in North Port, Florida, and without Petito.

Investigators ‘Frustrated’ By Laundrie’s Lack Of Cooperation

Not long after returning home, Laundrie declined to speak to police about Petito’s disappearance.

On the night that Petito’s mother reported her missing, police arrived at Laundrie’s home in North Port. Police were reportedly handed the number of Laundrie's lawyer, who said that he would not make any statements.

North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison admitted that Laundrie’s lack of cooperation has been a source of shared "frustration," and urged him to come forward to speak to investigators.

Laundrie Remains Missing

Laundrie was reportedly last seen by his family on Sept. 14. Neighbors said they saw his family depart from their North Port home with an attached camper on Sept. 11. This was the same day that Petito was reported missing to the Suffolk County Police Department in Long Island, New York. The case was handed over to North Port police two days later.

For the last several days, investigators have been combing through the Carlton Nature Reserve together with officials from other departments after receiving the information from Laundrie's family. His car was discovered by the Laundrie family, according to his attorney, but they left it in place in case he returned.

Police have been searching the area for days but warned that it is treacherous terrain because of the presence of snakes, alligators and flooding.

The search is ongoing.

Petito's Family Begged Laundrie's Family To Assist With Investigation

The Petito family made their own open appeals to the Laundrie family for any information they can share to assist with the investigation into their daughter’s disappearance.

On Sept. 14, the same day Laundrie was last seen, the Petito family released a statement that implored the Laundrie family to do more to help law enforcement. They urged the Laundrie family "not to remain in the background."

"Brian is refusing to tell Gabby's family where he last saw her. Brian is also refusing to explain why he left Gabby all alone and drove her van to Florida," read the statement. "The Schmidt and Petito family implore Brian to come forward and at least tell us if we are looking in the right area."

Laundrie’s parents have remained silent since this appeal. His sister was interviewed Tuesday by the FBI at her home at Lakewood Ranch, 40 miles south of North Port.

The FBI Has Taken The Lead In The Investigation

The FBI is currently the lead agency in the investigation into Petito’s disappearance.

It was the bureau’s office in Denver that announced the discovery of Petito’s body Monday in the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park.

Agents from the FBI’s Tampa field office were responsible for executing a search warrant on Laundrie’s parents’ home on the same day her body was discovered. In a tweet, the agency said it could not reveal what it took into possession, but the New York Post reports that Laundrie’s Ford Mustang was towed away from the scene.

The FBI has solicited tips from across the country from anyone who may have information related to either Petito or Laundrie. Law enforcement partners, including North Port police, have directed inquiries about either case to the FBI for comment.

Petito’s Death Ruled A Homicide But Cause Of Death Not Yet Known

After the FBI discovered Petito’s remains on Monday, a coroner classified her death as a homicide. However, law enforcement has not investigated the case as a homicide because a cause of death has yet to be determined.

Priya Banerjee, a board-certified forensic pathologist, explained during an appearance on “Fox & Friends First” that Petito's time of disappearance is unknown but Petito's body has had weeks to decompose, which can make a forensic examination difficult.

Banerjee suggested that the involvement of a forensic entomologist may be needed to accurately determine just how Petito died and how long ago.

Police Are Criticized For Their Handling Of Petito’s Case

Police in Moab City and North Port have faced scrutiny for their handling of the disappearances of Petito and Laundrie.

On Thursday, the City of Moab announced it would conduct a "formal investigation" into the police department’s handling of the Aug. 12 encounter.

The city did not attribute blame for the officers or allege that department policy was violated. It did, however, make it clear that it would be determined if the case could have been handled differently.

North Port police faced criticism for not seeking a search warrant sooner for Laundrie.

Former Miami-Dade homicide detective Pat Diaz questioned why North Port officers did not seek a search warrant after police determined Laundrie to be a person of interest. Diaz said it would have been possible to get a warrant, though a department spokesman insisted that problems in jurisdiction got in the way and that "there is no information that a crime took place in North Port."

Kenneth Nunn, a law professor at the University of Florida, told NBC News that police "dropped the ball" by letting Laundrie leave. Nunn said that they could have named him as a "critical witness."

North Port police spokesman Joshua Taylor said that there "will be a time and place to explain why things were done and why and when."

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