Mystery deepens as police search for fiance of missing Gabby Petito

More than 50 law enforcement officers on Sunday started a second day of searching in a vast Florida wildlife reserve for 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, a person of interest in the disappearance of his fiancee, Gabby Petito. In Wyoming, investigators hunted for clues in a mountainous national park.

Laundrie and Petito, 22, left the east coast in July for a cross-country trek in a converted van. Police say Laundrie was alone when he drove the van back to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida on 1 September. Petito’s family filed a missing persons report on 11 September, in Suffolk county, New York.

In a case that has attracted national attention, mystery also enveloped the whereabouts of Laundrie, who had not spoken to law enforcement before his family reported him missing on Friday.

On Saturday, more than 50 police officers, FBI agents and members of other agencies searched the 24,000-acre Carlton Reserve in the Sarasota area. Drones, scent-sniffing dogs and all-terrain vehicles were used.

“His family says they believe he entered the area earlier this week,” North Port police said.

A spokesman said Laundrie could survive in the reserve for some time.

“Certainly we prepare for all different possibilities, but our goal is to locate him and bring him back to North Port,” Josh Taylor said.

Family members said they believed Laundrie went to the reserve with only a backpack, Taylor said. Another mystery is how he got to the reserve. Family members told investigators he took his car, but the vehicle was found at the family home.

Laundrie’s family told officers they had not seen him since Tuesday. Police said that conversation on Friday evening was the first time they’d spoken with the Laundries in detail and came at the family’s request.

In Denver, the FBI said agents were conducting ground surveys at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, with help from the National Park Service and local law enforcement. Petito’s last known contact with family members was from the park.

FBI agents tweeted that they were focusing on an undeveloped camping area near Spread Creek on the eastern boundary of the park, which was closed to the public. They urged anybody who was there between 27 and 30 August, and had seen Petito, Laundrie or their vehicle, to contact them.

Earlier, North Port police said they understood frustration over the lack of progress in finding Petito.

They also said it was “important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime” and the investigation was now a “multiple missing person” case.

Attorneys for the Petito family said: “All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing.”

An attorney for Brian Laundrie, Steven Bertolino, did not comment.

The couple’s trek in their Fort Transit van began in July from Long Island. They intended to reach Oregon by November.

Video released by police in Moab, Utah, showed that an officer pulled the van over on 12 August after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb. The body cam video showed an emotional Petito inside a police cruiser while officers questioned Laundrie.

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