‘He is hiding’: Gabby Petito’s family says of Brian Laundrie’s disappearance, search for Laundrie suspended until Sunday

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About 50-plus people were searching for 23-year-old Brian Laundrie in a nature preserve in Sarasota County. At nightfall, the search was suspended until Sunday.

Laundrie’s parents filed a missing person’s report for him on Friday. According to the North Port Police Department, the last time Laundrie was seen was on Tuesday. The North Port Police Department and the FBI are working to corroborate the story.

Laundrie is a person of interest in the case of his missing fiancee 22-year-old Gabby Petito.

The two went on a journey across the country in July but only Laundrie returned. Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11.

On Saturday morning, between five and six agencies converged on at the Carlton reserve, a more than 24,000-acre preserve that Laundrie’s family said their son liked to visit. There were four-wheelers, canines, drones and more than 50 people out searching after authorities said he may be in danger.

Multiple Agencies searching for Laundrie
Multiple Agencies searching for Laundrie Credit: WINK News

The case has created a media maelstrom in North Port and across the country

On Saturday morning, the North Port Police Department said they were conducting a grid search for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve, a 24,565-acre preserve, in Sarasota County.

His family told police they believed Laundrie, 23, may have entered the area earlier this week, said North Port spokesman Josh Taylor.

“We’ve obviously been trying to reach the family and get answers in this case since Saturday,” Taylor said. “The first time we had any in-depth conversation, open with them was yesterday.”

Taylor said Laundrie’s parents spoke to officers on Friday with the presence of their lawyer on the phone. None of the conversation included any information on Petito.

“Their attorney was on the phone with us and was giving them counsel as we spoke,” Taylor said. “All of that conversation was only about the whereabouts of Brian.”

Taylor said Brian still remains a person of interest in the disappearance of Petito, not a suspect.

Taylor described Brian as “endangered.”

“I think that’s fair to say,” Taylor said, adding that, “There’s an enormous amount of pressure on him to provide answers in what’s going on here.”

Dozens of officers from the North Port Police Department, the U.S. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were roaming the nature preserve searching for Laundrie.

Taylor said there are “drones in the air, bloodhounds, canines, four-wheelers,” being used to find Laundrie.

“It’s wooded,” Taylor said. “It’s been wet; it’s hot, but we have drones up, we have four-wheelers.”

The reserve has more than 80 miles of hiking trails and connects with the 12-mile Myakka Island Wilderness Trail and the Myakka River State Park Reserve, according to Visit Sarasota, the official tourism marketing entity for Sarasota County.

“It’s just nothing but trees, swamps,” said Jason Anderson, of North Port.

It’s a vast area.

“Seems like that is nothing new in this case,” Taylor said. “We are hopeful he is out here, certainly we prepared for all possibilities.”

Laundrie walked out of his home with a backpack and said he was going there, his family told law enforcement, Taylor said. Police are now concerned that Laundrie is in danger. “There’s an enormous amount of pressure on him I’m sure to provide answers and what’s going on here,” said Taylor.

However, Taylor said, there was an indication that someone had driven Laundrie’s vehicle to the preserve and then returned it to the home.

“You could be out here for months if you wanted,” Taylor said.

The FBI announced on Saturday that it and the National Park Service will be conducting ground surveys in Grand Teton National park. These surveys will be in areas “relevant to the investigation into Gabrielle Petito’s disappearance.”

Taylor said officers removed some of Laundrie’s clothes from his home to provide canines with his scent to track.

Taylor said officers were not following Laundrie because he is not a suspect in a crime.

“Our focus was putting resources in trying to find Gabby,” Taylor said. “We knew we would deal with Brian eventually, but this is certainly a twist.”

Laundrie and Petito set out to travel the country in a converted camper van in July. Laundrie came back to North Port without Petito and has refused to speak to authorities on Petito’s whereabouts.

Petito’s family last saw her on a Facetime call on Aug. 24, and heard from her, via text message on Aug. 29.

Petito’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11. Laundrie is a person of interest in the case, according to North Port police.

During the week-long pursuit for information, the North Port Police Department has urged Laundrie and his family to disclose information that could lead them to find Petito.

The family chose not to speak to investigators until Friday evening when they informed them they did not know where Laundrie was.

“The attorney for the Laundrie family called FBI investigators Friday night indicating the family would like to talk about the disappearance of their son. The family now claims that they have not seen Brian since Tuesday of this week,” said Josh Taylor, public information officer for the City of North Port. “We understand the community’s frustration, we are frustrated too. For six days, the North Port Police Department and the FBI have been pleading with the family to contact investigators regarding Brian’s Fiancé Gabby Petito. Friday is the first time they have spoken with investigators in detail. It is important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime. We are not currently working a crime investigation. We are now working a multiple missing person investigations.”

Petito is about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair, blue eyes, and several tattoos, including one on her finger and one on her forearm that reads “Let it be.”

Laundrie is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and 160 pounds. He has brown eyes, short brown hair (almost bald) and trimmed facial hair. He was last seen wearing a hiking bag with a waist strap.

The Petito family released a statement on Friday after hearing of Laundrie’s disappearance.

“All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding,” they said. “Gabby is missing.”

Investigators searched a silver Mustang parked out front.

“It’s kind of crazy, I never thought I would be in the situation but people just want answers. You know everyone’s aggravated, they just want answers,” said Kevin Holt, of North Cape Coral.

North Port resident Karen Bennett said she wants to know where Petito is.

“Her family deserves to know. Everybody deserves to know, bring her home, where is she,” Bennett said.

This community is hoping it won’t be long until both Gabby and Brian are found safely.

“We’ve been praying for the girl Gabby. We hope that she gets found. This guy needs to be found and if he does, give up the information. That is the best-case scenario,” Anderson said.

Organizers are planning another vigil for Petito on Saturday and it is set to start at 7 p.m.

If you have any information on the couple’s whereabouts, call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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