Florida police search for boyfriend of missing woman Gabby Petito

Police are searching for the boyfriend of a woman who went missing while they were on a road trip in the US.

Officers in Florida said they were working with the FBI to locate 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, a person of interest in the disappearance of his girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito.

North Port police said Laundrie’s family had told officers they had not seen him since Tuesday. Police said the conversation on Friday evening was the first time they had spoken with Laundrie’s family in detail about the case, and that the meeting came at the family’s request.

An attorney for the family called FBI investigators and said they wanted to talk about Laundrie’s disappearance, police said.

Laundrie and Petito, 22, left in July on a cross-country trek in a converted van to visit national parks in the US west. She was reported missing on 11 September by her family.

Investigators said Laundrie returned in the van to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida, on 1 September. He was then identified as a person of interest in the case, which has attracted much media attention, partly due to Petito’s large following on Instagram.

“It is important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime,” North Port police said in Friday’s statement. It added that the investigation was now a “multiple missing person” case.

Steven Bertolino, an attorney for Brian Laundrie, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday night.

Earlier in the week, Petito’s family pleaded for the Laundrie family to tell them where their son last saw her.

Petito and Laundrie met while growing up on Long Island. His parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles (56km) south of Sarasota.

Police video released by the Moab police department in Utah showed that an officer pulled the van over on 12 August after it was seen speeding and hitting a kerb near the entrance to Arches national park. The body cam video showed an emotional Petito, who sat inside a police cruiser while officers also questioned Laundrie.

Laundrie said on the video the couple got into a minor scuffle that began when he climbed into the van with dirty feet, and said he did not want to pursue a domestic violence charge against Petito, who officers decided was the aggressor.

He told the officers he was not going to pursue charges because he loved her. “It was just a squabble. Sorry it had to get so public,” Laundrie says on the video.

Moab police decided not file any charges and instead separated the couple for the night, with Laundrie checking into a motel and Petito remaining with the converted sleeper van.

The official conversation with the family on Friday came shortly after the North Port police chief, Todd Garrison, had publicly vented frustration over Brian Laundrie’s lack of help on Wednesday, pleading for Laundrie’s lawyer to arrange a conversation.

“Two people left on a trip and one person returned!” an earlier tweet by the police chiefGarrison had said.

The couple intended to reach Oregon by Halloween, according to their social media accounts, but Petito vanished after her last known contact with family in late August from Grand Teton national park in Wyoming, authorities said.

Laundrie drove the van back to Florida on 1 September alone, police said. Petito’s family filed a missing persons report last Saturday with police in Suffolk County, New York.

Petito’s parents had released a letter through their attorney on Thursday to Laundrie’s parents, asking them to help investigators locate Petito.

Bertolino said the Laundrie family was hoping for Petito’s safe return, but he had asked them not to speak with investigators.

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