Gabby Petito’s loved ones gather in New York for a memorial as the search for her fiancé continues
Dakin Andone, Alison Kosik and Travis Caldwell, CNN
(CNN) — The family and friends of Gabby Petito are gathering Sunday in Holbrook, New York, on Long Island to honor her memory, one week after the 22-year-old’s remains were found in a national forest in Wyoming.
Sunday’s public memorial visitation at Moloney’s Holbrook Funeral Home comes as authorities continue their search — now over a week old — for Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who returned home to Florida from a cross-country road trip without Petito on September 1.
Footage from a livestream of the event Sunday provided by the funeral home showed an altar surrounded by pictures of Petito. Attendees walked by, eyeing the photos, while others gathered, hugging and talking.
Outside, signs posted across the street bore Petito’s name and read, “Forever in our hearts.”
Attendee Angelina Amendola said she didn’t know Petito personally. But they came from the same hometown, Blue Point, and she wanted to support Petito’s family.
“I’m a mother — I could never imagine something like that happening to my boys,” Amendola told CNN.
“It’s going to be a lot,” she said of the memorial. “But I want to show the Petito and Schmidt family lots of love and let them know that they’re surrounded by people who love them and care for Gabby.”
For days now, Petito has been honored in communities across the country as her story gripped the nation’s attention: A vigil was held in Salt Lake City last Wednesday, and a small table of remembrance has been set up at a Wilmington, North Carolina, restaurant where she used to work, according to CNN affiliate WWAY.
The latest memorial was Saturday night, when community members in North Port, Florida — where Petito lived with Laundrie and his parents — gathered at city hall to hold a candlelight vigil and release butterflies in her honor and voice support for her family. Most didn’t know Petito, CNN affiliate WFTS reported, but they still felt a connection to her.
“I have daughters myself, as well as granddaughters,” Lisa Correll, who organized the memorial, told WFTS of hearing Petito’s story. “So it was very emotional to begin with.”
“At least she is home with her family and they get to have their closure and peace,” Correll said.
Richard Stafford, an attorney for the Petito family, told CNN in a statement Friday the family is asking for donations to a future Gabby Petito foundation in lieu of flowers.
$30,000 in rewards available for tips leading to Laundrie’s arrest
Petito and Laundrie embarked on a cross-country trip in June and were visiting national parks. They posted online regularly about their travels with the hashtag #VanLife, but those posts abruptly stopped in late August.
Petito was reported missing September 11 — 10 days after Laundrie returned home with their van — after her family had not been able to get in touch with her. She was found dead eight days later near a campground in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Meantime, authorities have been searching for Laundrie, who faces a federal warrant for his arrest for the “use of unauthorized devices” stemming from his actions following Petito’s death. Laundrie allegedly used a debit card and PIN number for accounts that did not belong to him for charges exceeding $1,000 between the dates of August 30 and September 1, according to a federal indictment.
Laundrie’s parents told authorities on September 17 that the 23-year-old left their home days earlier with his backpack and said he was headed to the reserve, which has since been the focus of an extensive search by local and federal officers.
Now, two separate rewards totaling $30,000 have been offered to anyone who provides law enforcement officials with Laundrie’s whereabouts.
Boohoff Law, a personal injury law firm, said in a release on its website it is offering a $20,000 reward to be “paid once the investigating law enforcement agency supplies” the firm with “written verification that a tip helped lead to locating” Laundrie.
The law firm, which has multiple offices across Florida, including North Port, said its reward “will remain open for two months starting from the receipt of the tip” by law enforcement.
Meanwhile, a second reward has been offered by Jerry Torres, who said in a tweet Wednesday he was a neighbor of Petito’s family.
Torres wrote that he and his daughter “offer our deepest condolences to the family of Gabby Petito,” adding, “We are offering a reward of $5,000 for tips leading to an arrest.”
Torres said Friday the reward he’s offering had been raised to $10,000, thanks in part to help from people like Steve Moyer, the former deputy chief of police for Sarasota, Florida.
“Money gets people to talk,” Moyer told CNN affiliate WZVN Friday.
An attorney for Laundrie’s family emphasized in a statement that the warrant was not for Petito’s death but related to activities that allegedly took place afterward.
“It is my understanding that the arrest warrant for Brian Laundrie is related to activities occurring after the death of Gabby Petito and not related to her actual demise,” Steve Bertolino said. “The FBI is focusing on locating Brian and when that occurs the specifics of the charges covered under the indictment will be addressed in the proper forum.”
Swampy wilderness remains focus of search
The Carlton Reserve, located in Sarasota County not far from Laundrie’s parents’ home in North Port, is an inhospitable environment spanning nearly 25,000 acres.
“Please be aware, the Carlton Reserve is a vast and unforgiving location at times. It is currently (waist) deep in water in many areas,” North Port police said in one of its updates last week. “This is dangerous work for the search crews as they are wading through gator and snake-infested swamps and flooded hiking and biking trails.”
Dozens of law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies have combed the reserve for signs of Laundrie, using drones and bloodhounds as part of the search, North Port Police Department spokesperson Josh Taylor said.
An underwater dive team from the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office who are “called upon to search for evidence of crimes and victims of drowning, water accidents and foul play” was also brought in midweek, according to the sheriff’s office.
“We’re looking through wooded areas, we’re looking through bodies of water, we’re looking through swampy areas,” North Port Police Commander Joe Fussell said in a video shared online Friday. “And we’re deploying the resources to be able to do that. We have air units, we have drones, we have the swamp buggies, air boats, multiple law enforcement agencies, we have ATVs, we have UTVs and we have officers on foot as well.”
Law enforcement expected to be back out in the reserve searching throughout the weekend, with a focus on “areas of more likelihood,” according to a statement from Taylor, the North Port Police spokesperson, Friday.
Unless “something of note” was found, Taylor said North Port Police would not be providing regular updates over the weekend.
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