NORTH PORT — The morning after FBI agents announced they found a body in the Wyoming wilderness believed to be Gabby Petito, agents nearly 2,400 miles away converged on the home of Brian Laundrie — the boyfriend who was traveling with her, and who himself is still missing.
A dozen FBI agents spent most Monday at the North Port home of Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, speaking with the parents, collecting boxes of evidence and towing away the silver Ford Mustang that Brian Laundrie has been using.
A search warrant granted to the North Port Police shows investigators are looking for records of communication between Brian Laundrie and his parents that relate to Gabby Petito, who was last seen around Aug. 26 in Wyoming.
The warrant also points to a text conversation that Gabby Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, received from her daughter on Aug. 27 that caused her to be “concerned.”
“The message read, ‘Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.’ The reference to ‘Stan’ was regarding her grandfather, but per her mother, she never calls him ‘Stan.’ The mother was concerned that something was wrong with her daughter,” the search warrant reads.
After that, Gabby Petito’s cellphone was turned off for 15 days, the warrant states.
It also states that a license plate reader on Interstate 75 at the Sumter exit showed that Brian Laundrie arrived in North Port on Sept. 1 with Gabby Petito’s van.
Gabby’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11.
It was the first time investigators have searched the home since the Petito family reported Gabby Petito missing to police in their home in Suffolk County, New York.
North Port police went to the home that night to talk to Brian, but say they left with only instructions from the Laundries to contact their family attorney, who told investigators they wouldn’t be talking.
Police returned to the home Friday evening, when the Laundries called to report Brian Laundrie missing. The call set off a weekend-long search for Brian in wild areas in and near North Port with bloodhounds, drones, swamp buggies, ATVs and airboats, where his parents said he had headed earlier in the week with a backpack around his waist.
A little while after the search was called off Sunday night, the FBI held a news conference near the Grand Teton National Park to announce the discovery of a body there they say is that of Petito, the 22-year-old who was last seen in that area of Wyoming around Aug. 26.
WAITING ON WABASSO
The usually quiet residential Wabasso Avenue has been a free-for-all for the past week, with dozens of media crews and hundreds of regular people in various degrees of concern, curiosity or rage with the situation.
Monday was a different scene.
North Port police took a measure of control, cordoning off the Laundrie home with crime scene tape in the morning. They blocked the street to local residents only, stemming a steady stream of cars, news trucks and golf carts.
People could walk to the area near the Laundries’ home, but they had to find someplace to park — maybe paying a homeowner a few bucks — walking in.
Neighbors are keeping tabs on the situation.
“This is scary … and tragic,” said Judy Richardson, a neighbor watching from her lawn across from the Laundrie home.
She watched from a chair as law enforcement and the media did their jobs. A national reporter asked to use her bathroom. A TV helicopter circled the sky above.
The FBI arrived in the morning, armed with a battering ram that they didn’t use. Police and federal agents went in and out of the home, with most staying inside for long periods of time. A police officer delivered a stack of cardboard evidence boxes to the home.
Another brought snacks, drinks and other items in coolers, presumably for the investigators in the home. It rained.
THE FORD MOVES AGAIN
At about 2:30 p.m., a truck from Talon Towing arrived and the two-man crew maneuvered the silver Ford Mustang out of the driveway — it had been parked between a red Dodge pickup and the garage door — and hauled it to an undisclosed area where it would be searched for evidence.
The Mustang’s movements have been somewhat mysterious.
Earlier in the day, the Laundrie family’s attorney, Steve Bertolino, told a New York television station that Brian Laundrie left home Tuesday, Sept. 14, in his car (the Mustang). The following day, Wednesday, his parents, looking for their son, drove to the entrance of the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve.
They found the car there, and on it a note from the North Port Police Department saying it needed to be removed, Bertolino told ABC-7 News. They left it there for another day, so he could drive it home if he came back to it.
Bertolino told the reporter the family went back to the Reserve to retrieve the car on Thursday.
The North Port Police have not answered questions Monday about the case and have not confirmed the note on the car, nor had information about the Laundrie family.
Investigators are asking anyone with information about Gabby Petito or Brian Laundrie to call 1-800-CALL-FBI or visit www.fbi.gov/tips.