The search for Brian Laundrie in a swampy Florida nature reserve enters its second week
Travis Caldwell, CNN
(CNN) — Since being informed a week ago by Brian Laundrie’s parents that they had not seen him for days, dozens of local and federal officers have searched high and low in a swampy Florida nature reserve for the 23-year-old following the disappearance and then the discovery of the body of his fiancée Gabby Petito in Wyoming.
The search of the Carlton Reserve will resume Saturday, officials said.
Laundrie, who his parents say departed their home with his backpack on September 14 and told them he was headed to reserve, left his cell phone and wallet behind, a source close to the family told CNN on Thursday. The police were told of Laundrie’s departure by his parents on September 17, officials said.
A multitude of personnel scoured the area this week, 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 mid-week, 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 Point 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.”
Petito, 22, 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.
Laundrie returned home with their van on September 1. Petito was reported missing September 11 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.
According to an arrest warrant issued Thursday, Laundrie is wanted for the alleged use of “unauthorized devices” in the period following Petito’s death.
The warrant “doesn’t change anything for us,” Fussell said. “We’re working as hard to find him now as we did on day one.”
The conditions are challenging with murky water, muddy roads and thick vegetation, according to videos shared by North Port police. “Rough is an understatement,” Taylor said Thursday of the conditions in the reserve.
He said Saturday’s and Sunday’s efforts will be focusing on “areas of more likelihood.”
Another person says she gave hitchhiking Laundrie a ride in August
With law enforcement combing through the reserve, more stories are emerging of interactions involving Laundrie before his return to Florida.
Norma Jean Jalovec, a seasonal Wyoming resident, told CNN that she picked up Laundrie not far from Jackson Lake Dam on August 29, around 6:15 p.m. and gave him a ride to the Spread Creek dispersed campground where Gabby Petito’s remains were later found.
Laundrie was hitchhiking, Jalovec said, and got in the passenger seat of her Toyota SUV 4-Runner.
According to Jalovec, Laundrie told her he and his fiancée had a travel blog, that she was in their van at the camping area working on the blog, and that he had been hiking along the Snake River embankment for a few days.
Jalovec said when they arrived at Spread Creek, she dropped Laundrie off before the gate at the entrance of the camping area. She said she offered once or twice to take him farther, but he was insistent that he be dropped off at the entrance.
Laundrie then offered her gas money, but she declined, she said.
Jalovec said as soon as she saw a series of videos posted on TikTok by Miranda Baker, who said she picked up Laundrie hitchhiking and dropped him at Jackson Lake Dam, she called the FBI and shared all the information she had.
Baker had said she dropped Laundrie near the dam at 6:09 p.m. and Jalovec says she picked him up just a few minutes later.
“I’m glad I was able to help in the investigation that placed him at Spread Creek at a definite time on August 29,” Jalovec told CNN.
CNN has not been able to independently verify Baker’s claims. North Port police confirmed to CNN that Baker spoke with the department before posting the videos on TikTok.
The disappearance of Petito, and subsequent search for Laundrie, has received a wave of national interest as well as brought heightened attention to others who have gone missing in the US.
Since the discovery of Petito, vigils have been held from Salt Lake City to the East Coast.
On Friday, residents of Blue Point, New York — Petito’s hometown on Long Island — lit candles in a memorial to show support for her family.
The organizers of “Light the Night For Gabby Petito” hope that similar demonstrations would stretch beyond Long Island, according to CNN affiliate WABC.
Candles were provided along with a request for a $20 donation with proceeds going to the Petito family, WABC said.
A candle lighting and butterfly release memorial is slated for Saturday evening in North Port in front of its city hall, according to The Daily Sun.
A memorial visitation for Petito is planned for Sunday afternoon in Holbrook on Long Island, according to Moloney’s Holbrook Funeral Home. It will be open to the public.
Richard Stafford, an attorney for Petito’s family, confirmed in a statement Friday her funeral would be held Sunday, adding that the family has asked for donations to be made to the future Gabby Petito Foundation in lieu of flowers.
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