FBI asks for the public’s help in finding Gabby Petito’s fiance as new tip emerges about his previous movements
Madeline Holcombe, CNN
(CNN) — The search for Gabby Petito is over. The remains of the 22-year-old, who disappeared while on a trip exploring national parks with her fiancé, were recovered in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, and a coroner on Tuesday made an initial determination that she died by homicide.
Now, the FBI is asking for the public’s help in finding her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who has eluded authorities since returning to Florida without Petito on September 1. The search for Laundrie was set to resume at 8 a.m. Wednesday at a Florida nature reserve as new tips emerged about his previous movements.
Petito’s remains were found Sunday in an undeveloped camping area in Bridger-Teton National Forest, officials said. She was first reported missing by her family on September 11, after Laundrie returned home from the road trip without her on September 1.
In a series of videos on TikTok, one woman said she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride on August 29 in Wyoming — and that he claimed he was camping by himself for multiple days while Petito was back at their van working on social media posts.
Miranda Baker said they picked up Laundrie while he was hitchhiking in Colter Bay, Wyoming, which is not far from where Petito’s remains were found. He offered to pay $200 for the ride before he even got in the car, she said.
The FBI said the agency would like information from anyone who may have had contact with Petito or Laundrie or who visited the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest between August 27-30 or may have seen their vehicle.
In the days since she was reported missing, Petito’s story has become a national obsession for many, spurring digital detectives to comb through the couple’s online trail to try to solve the case. The story has also further highlighted the tens of thousands of missing persons stories that do not garner such intense interest; there were nearly 90,000 active missing person cases as of the end of 2020, according to the National Crime Information Center.
The Petito family attorney Richard Benson Stafford, in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate KSL, said the family needed time to grieve, and that they will release a statement “when Gabby is home.”
Police say account on TikTok videos is plausible
Baker, in her TikTok videos, said that when Laundrie found out she and her boyfriend were going to Jackson Hole instead of Jackson, he got agitated, asked that the vehicle stop, and got out near the Jackson Dam. She said they dropped him off less than 30 minutes after picking him up.
Baker said she has spoken to law enforcement about the interaction with Laundrie.
North Port police confirmed to CNN that Baker spoke with the department before posting the videos on TikTok.
“Her account is plausible, it appears,” North Port police spokesperson Josh Taylor said.
CNN has not been able to independently verify Baker’s claims. The FBI has not returned CNN requests for comment.
The search for Laundrie continued Tuesday at a Florida nature reserve where his parents reportedly said he indicated he was going last week.
Laundrie’s parents told investigators he left their home in North Port with a backpack September 14 to go to the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve near Venice.
“A weekend ground search and aerial search Monday of the 25-thousand-acre preserve has yet to yield any answers, but we must press on,” North Port Police said on Facebook. Police indicated the search picked up Tuesday in a different part of the reserve.
It concluded Tuesday evening around sundown and will resume Wednesday, they said.
Before his parents told police Laundrie left the home September 14, he had refused to talk to investigators, and the family had directed them to their attorney, police said.
Authorities also searched the family home. On Monday, FBI agents removed a number of items and a Ford Mustang convertible was towed away.
What we know about the building tension
Evidence has also emerged suggesting tension was building between the couple.
A man who saw the domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie in Utah last month said, “They were talking aggressively at each other, and something seemed off.”
In a handwritten sworn statement, the witness named Chris — whose last name was redacted in the document provided by Moab City Police to CNN — said it appeared that the two were arguing over control of Petito’s phone. “At one point she was punching him in the arm and/or face and trying to get into the van.”
The witness said he heard Petito say, “Why do you have to be so mean?” although Chris added that he couldn’t be sure if the comment was meant to be taken seriously. Moab City Police responded to the incident, and the couple agreed to spend the night apart.
There is also a 911 recording of the incident in Moab on August 12 when police confronted the pair.
In the recording from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, a caller reported what he called a “domestic dispute” between a couple.
“We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,” the caller says. “Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”
Before Petito disappeared, her conversations with her mother appeared to reveal she had “more and more tension” with Laundrie, according to a police affidavit for a search warrant of an external hard drive found in the couple’s van.
Petito sent multiple text messages and had many talks with her mother during her trip, Florida police wrote in an application filed last week.
On August 27, Petito’s mother received one last communication from her daughter, which she called an “odd text,” the affidavit says.
The message read: “Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.” Because the text message referred to Petito’s grandfather as Stan, her mother was concerned that something was wrong, the warrant states.
Following that text message, Petito’s phone was no longer operational, and she stopped posting anything on social media about their trip, the warrant says.
One more text came on August 30 that read, “No service in Yosemite,” but her family doubts she wrote it.