Please select your preferences to subscribe.

Remains believed to belong to missing woman in van mystery are found

  • >> Jesus Jiménez and Eduardo Medina, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-09-20 17:37:38 BdST

bdnews24
An undated photo provided by the Petito family, shows Gabrielle Petito, who disappeared on a cross-country trip with her fiancé. Brian Laundrie, 23, returned home alone on Sept 1, 2021, from the trip with Petito, 22. The New York Times

Human remains believed to belong to a Florida woman reported missing after her fiancé returned home from a monthslong van trip without her were found in a national park in Wyoming on Sunday, the FBI said at a news conference.

“Earlier today, human remains were discovered, consistent with a description of Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito,” said Charles Jones, an FBI agent, adding that a full forensic identification had not been completed to confirm the remains were those of Petito, 22.

“On behalf of the FBI personnel and our partners, I would like to extend sincere, sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family,” said Jones, who did not take questions at the news conference. “As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We ask that you all respect their privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter.”

A cause of death had not been determined, Jones said.

The remains were found in the area of the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park, Jones said, adding that the campsite will remain closed. Anyone who had been in the camping area between Aug 27 and Aug. 30 was urged to contact the FBI, Jones said.

The discovery of the remains believed to be that of Petito appeared to end one search for a missing person as another continued for her missing fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, after his parents told the police they had not seen him in days.

Laundrie, whom the police have called a “person of interest,” had through a lawyer declined to speak with investigators, police said. When his parents told police that he, too, was missing, a search for him began that included scouring a vast Florida wildlife refuge.

Joseph Petito, the woman’s father, posted a photo of her on Twitter on Sunday night.

“She touched the world,” he said.

The North Port Police Department said they were “saddened and heartbroken to learn that Gabby has been found deceased.”

Lawyers for the Petito family and Laundrie did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday night.

As the police, FBI agents and National Park rangers searched for Petito in Wyoming, the woman’s last known whereabouts, according to her family, authorities in Florida searched for Laundrie in the refuge, a 24,565-acre park in Sarasota County called the Carlton Reserve. On Sunday afternoon, police in North Port, Florida, said their search at the Carlton Reserve had ended for the day with nothing new to report.

“We will continue to work with the FBI in the search for more answers,” they said.

Petito left with Laundrie in July in a white Ford van outfitted for a cross-country adventure. On Sept 1, Laundrie returned to the home in North Port where he lived with his parents and Petito, in the white van that the couple had used for the trip and that had been registered to Petito.

Ten days later, on Sept 11, Petito was reported missing by her parents, according to police.

In the days after Petito was reported missing, authorities expressed “frustration” in their efforts to speak to Laundrie, who has not been declared a suspect in the case.

The case has drawn widespread attention, as reporters have gathered outside Laundrie’s house and some in the public have scoured the couple’s Instagram accounts, which depicted a seemingly carefree, nomadic “van life” in the American West.

Petito and Laundrie left New York on July 2 for what was supposed to be a four-month, cross-country trip visiting national parks, said Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt. The couple posted photos and cheerful updates on Instagram and YouTube, and outfitted the van with a bed, tiny bookcases and plants and art.

But something apparently went wrong in Moab, Utah, Petito’s family said.

On Aug 12, police officers there responded to a report of a “domestic problem” after Laundrie had “some sort of argument” with Petito and told her to take a walk and calm down, according to a police report.

Laundrie and Petito both told the officers that they were in love and engaged to be married and “desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” the report said.

Laundrie told one officer that “issues between the two had been building over the last few days,” it said.

During the encounter with police, Petito cried and said she suffered from anxiety, according to body camera footage of the episode. In the police report, Petito is recorded saying she moved to slap Laundrie because she feared that he “was going to leave her in Moab without a ride.”

Both told police that the episode should be classified as a “mental/emotional health ‘break,’ ” rather than as a domestic assault.

In the report, police described Laundrie as the victim of the incident. They arranged for him to stay in a hotel that night while Petito kept the van. No charges were filed, the report states.

In social media posts published before and after Aug 12, the couple documented their trip, including with many photos of Petito posing against backdrops of nature. The YouTube video showed the couple kissing, scaling rocks and laughing at how the Utah sun had melted the chocolate in Laundrie’s granola.

“I love the van,” Petito said, smiling at Laundrie.

Petito, the oldest of six siblings, had worked as a pharmacy technician to save money for the trip. She met Laundrie at Bayport-Blue Point High School on Long Island, Schmidt said. They began dating after graduation and moved two years ago to Florida, he said.

In their posts from 2020, the couple expressed excitement about their future.

© 2021 The New York Times Company