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Gabby Petito case: Search continues in thousands of rural acres for Brian Laundrie

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Staff Report

NORTH PORT — More than 50 law enforcement officers converged on two North Port-area parks Saturday, searching across thousands of acres for Brian Laundrie, who slipped away from his home sometime this week.

Police want to know where he is because they believe he has vital information in the missing person case of Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, his financée, who vanished sometime in August while the two were on a van trip out west.

Laundrie, though, has refused to talk to investigators, and his attorney said he would not.

North Port police were also at the Laundries’ home on Wabasso Avenue on Friday night and through Saturday, ferrying brown paper evidence bags in and out. Some of what they removed was Brian Laundrie’s clothing, to help search dogs get his scent so they could track him through the wilderness, authorities said.

Laundrie’s parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, told police late Friday that Brian was not at the home and they did not know where he was.

They called police as a growing crowd of media and other people concerned about the case began to swell on their block, walking up to the house. Some people with bullhorns and others shouted at the family that they wanted answers in Petito’s disappearance.

The Laundries told police he could be in one of the parks, said Joshua Taylor, spokesperson for the North Port Police Department.

“At this point, we’re going by the family’s word of where they think he is,” he said. They said he was familiar with the parks and often went there. Taylor also said Brian’s scent was at the park, although the car he may have driven there, or ridden in, was not there.

The officers are using drones, K-9 bloodhounds, all-terrain vehicles and other equipment to search the 600-acre Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port, and the much-larger T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve, which stretches thousands of acres in rural North Port, Venice and Sarasota County.

Agencies include the FBI, North Port Police, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the state Division of Forestry.

They searched the Myakkahatchee Park first, then turned to the Carlton Reserve, which is much larger at 25,000 acres.

He said it’s plausible Brian Laundrie could be at the Carlton Reserve.

“These were people that were living off the grid in different areas. I don’t know how frequently he would come out here for day hikes ... but you could be out here for months if you wanted.”

He admitted there is a belief that Brian Laundrie may be a threat to himself, but said he didn’t think Laundrie was a threat to others.

Taylor talked about some of the difficulties of searching for someone in the Carlton Reserve, especially at the height of Florida’s rainy season.

“It’s wooded, it’s been wet, it’s hot,” he said, talking to media at the park.

There are a few dirt roads that run along power lines, and also miles of off-road biking and hiking trails.

“We have drones up, we have four-wheelers and we have 50 people who are used to dealing with these elements. They’re from Florida and they know how it is.”

Police were also trying to figure out how Laundrie actually got to the park area. The car he was using somehow “made its way back” to the Laundrie’s home, Taylor said. Investigators were searching it, as well as the house, Friday night and Saturday. They did not impound the vehicle.

“We’re going by their word. We believe that vehicle made it from here back to that house,” Taylor said. But even “going by their word,” he said, they are looking at more confirmation.

“Certainly, we are looking to corroborate all of the information,” he said.

Earlier in the week, police impounded Petito’s van, which was at the home. It was the 2012 Ford Transit van they had been using in their trip to Long Island, New York, and out west.

Laundrie was out west with Petito and returned Sept. 1 to his parent’s North Port home in her van, without her. Petito’s parents last spoke to her around Aug. 25. They reported her missing on Sept. 11, and police began searching in North Port and out west at that time. Since then, the search has gone viral as media around the world and social media has spread word about Petito’s disappearance.

A reporter asked if Laundrie could be a danger to himself.

“Anything’s possible,” he said. “He’s under an enormous amount of pressure.”

Taylor emphasized that Laundrie is not a suspect in a crime. He is currently listed as a missing person. He is also a “person of interest in a missing persons case,” Taylor said.

“We don’t have a crime, we can’t just go pulling people in,” he said. “There is a fifth amendment,” and officers have respected it.

“We’re not following him everywhere he’s going,” he said. “Brian wasn’t willing to talk. That was abundantly clear ... so we were putting our resources to find Gabby.”

The Laundrie family didn’t talk about Petito when they spoke with authorities on Friday night, according to Taylor. He said their attorney was on the phone giving the family “counsel,” and “all of the conversation was about Brian.”

The Myakkahatchee Park was closed Saturday as the search and investigation continues.

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