Gabby Petito: autopsy to be conducted as search continues for fiance
Medical examiners in North Port, Florida, were scheduled to conduct an autopsy on Tuesday on a body found in Wyoming, seeking to determine if it is Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old “van life” traveler who disappeared.
The examination of the remains, which were discovered on Sunday in a remote area of Bridger-Teton national forest, in western Wyoming, was to take place as police and FBI agents searched for Petito’s fiance, Brian Laundrie.
Investigators have called Laundrie, 23, a “person of interest”. His parents told FBI agents they last saw him a week ago, when he told them he was planning to hike alone in the 24,000-acre Carlton Reserve wilderness area, near North Port.
North Port police called off their search there on Monday after “exhausting all avenues”. But on Tuesday they said they were once again searching the swampy reserve.
Investigators spent much of Monday searching the Laundrie home, loading cardboard boxes into a van and towing away a silver Ford Mustang.
Petito and Laundrie left her home state of New York in late June or early July, heading west in her white van to visit national parks and document the trip on social media.
Laundrie returned home to North Port alone in the van on 1 September. Ten days later members of Petito’s family reported her missing. Before disappearing, Laundrie refused to speak with investigators and retained a lawyer.
Witnesses last saw Petito on 24 August as she left a hotel in Salt Lake City. She posted her final photo on social media the next day. Her family believes she was headed to Grand Teton national park in Wyoming when they last heard from her.
A body was discovered on the edge of that park, in a remote area less than 1,000ft from where a pair of travel bloggers filmed the white van parked on a dirt road near Spread Creek on the evening of 27 August.
An FBI spokesman has said the body was “consistent” with the 5ft 5in, 110lb Petito. The autopsy was expected to identify the remains and determine a cause of death.
In seeking search warrants, investigators have cited a 27 August text purportedly sent by Petito to her mother, Nicole Schmidt, which describes repeated calls and voice messages from “Stan”, Petito’s grandfather.
Schmidt told investigators the message was odd because the young woman would not usually refer to her grandfather by his first name. Petito’s family has said a second text message also seemed suspicious.
Speaking to the Dr Phil show on CBS in an interview broadcast on Monday, Joseph Petito said Laundrie and his daughter dated for two and a half years and Laundrie was “always respectful”.
During the interview, which was recorded before the body was found in Wyoming, Petito said the couple took a previous road trip to California with no problems. This time, Joseph Petito said, the family began worrying after several days without hearing from their daughter.
“We called Brian, we called the mom, we called the dad, we called the sister, we called every number that we could find,” he said. “No phone calls were picked up, no text messages were returned.”
Joseph Petito said he wanted Laundrie to be held accountable for whatever part he played in his daughter’s disappearance, along with his family for protecting him.
“I hope they get what’s coming, and that includes his folks,” he said. “Because I’ll tell you, right now, they are just as complicit, in my book.”
Last week, police in Moab, Utah, released body-camera footage of a 12 August encounter that two officers had with Petito and Laundrie.
Petito sobs as she describes a quarrel with Laundrie she says became physical at times. The officers did not detain the couple but insisted they spend that night separately, Petito in the van and Laundrie at a hotel.