Search for Gabby Petito’s Fiancé Brian Laundrie Resumes in Florida Reserve

Police in Florida resumed their search Tuesday for Brian Laundrie, the fiancé of Gabby Petito, who has been missing for almost a week.

Investigators are searching for Laundrie on the Venice side of the Carlton Reserve, a 25,000-acre nature reserve near the family’s home in North Port, Florida. Agents were requested Monday afternoon, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesperson Adam Brown.

Investigators searched the reserve over the weekend without success. They focused on the area after Laundrie’s parents told police he may have gone there.

On Monday, the FBI went to Laundrie’s parents’ home in North Port and removed several boxes and towed away a car neighbors said Laundrie’s mother typically used.

Officials investigate home of Brian Laundrie
Law enforcement officials investigate the home of Brian Laundrie, who is wanted for questioning in the disappearance of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito, in North Port, Fla., on Sept. 20, 2021. (Curt Anderson/AP Photo)

The ongoing search comes as investigators try to piece together what happened to Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, on their road trip through the American West this summer. The couple had posted online regularly about their travels with the hashtag #VanLife, but those posts abruptly stopped in late August.

Laundrie returned to his parents’ home in Florida without her on Sept. 1, according to police. Petito was reported missing by her parents on Sept. 11, and officials said Sunday they found what they believe to be her remains in Wyoming near where the couple had last been seen.

An autopsy was underway Tuesday morning, and the FBI is expected to release the results later in the day, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue told CNN.

Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito
Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito. (Courtesy of FBI Denver via AP)

Meanwhile, Laundrie’s family told police on Friday night they had not seen him since Sept. 14. His family told police he left home with his backpack and told them he was going to the nearby Carlton Reserve.

Laundrie had refused to speak with police about Petito’s whereabouts prior to going missing, but he has not been charged and is not suspected of a crime, authorities said.

poster for Gabby Petito
A missing person poster for Gabby Petito is posted in Jackson, Wyo., on Sept. 16, 2021. (Amber Baesler/AP Photo)

The case has become an obsession for many, spurring digital detectives to comb through the couple’s online trail and try to solve the case. At the same time, that intense attention has highlighted how race and gender impact which of the nearly 90,000 unsolved missing persons cases get attention, and which ones don’t.

CNN spoke with several experts in policing and search and rescue efforts to understand the challenges in attempting to locate Laundrie. Here’s what they said.

Laundrie Had a Multiple-Day Head Start

Police in North Port, Florida, wrote on Twitter Saturday that authorities were searching the reserve, an effort that included the use of drones and bloodhounds who had used articles of Laundrie’s clothing taken from his home to get his scent, said police spokesperson Josh Taylor.

In a place like a nature reserve, foliage and the lack of sunlight affects visibility, according to Chris Boyer, executive director of the non-profit National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR). The night can also hamper efforts, especially if the person being sought has no source of light or fire.

But when it comes to people eluding authorities, the search becomes much more difficult. An evasive person is more than likely wearing clothing that helps them blend in with their surroundings, Boyer said. In order to avoid being seen by helicopters or drones, an individual may also crawl in creek beds and avoid leaving tracks—such as footprints, trash or evidence of a fire.

Law enforcement officials conduct a search
Law enforcement officials conduct a search for Brian Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota, Fla., on Sept. 18, 2021. (North Port Police Department via AP)

Boyer said technology like night vision goggles, drones, and thermal sensors could help in pinning down a person’s location.

Before he disappeared, Laundrie had been home in North Port for about two weeks. The family told police on Friday, Sept. 17, that the last time they saw him was three days prior.

Cheryl Dorsey, a retired Los Angeles police sergeant, told CNN on Monday she was curious why Laundrie’s parents did not alert authorities about his leaving Tuesday.

“I get that he’s a grown man,” Dorsey said, adding that he’s still just in his early 20s. “What influence, if any, do (his parents) have over him? He decides to go backpacking and they couldn’t stop him?”

Law enforcement officials conduct a search
Law enforcement officials conduct a search for Brian Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota, Fla., on Sept. 18, 2021. (North Port Police Department via AP)

Wilderness Searches Are Difficult

North Port police said Monday they shifted the focus of their search for Laundrie and are no longer looking for him in the nature reserve. “At this time, we currently believe we have exhausted all avenues in searching of the grounds there,” Taylor said.

However, police said Tuesday morning they were again searching for him at the reserve. Authorities have been at the reserve since 8 a.m. Tuesday, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.

Boyer, the NASAR director, said trying to find a person in the wilderness can be very difficult.

“It’s really hard to find people even when they want to be found,” he told CNN on Monday.

What makes finding Laundrie difficult, though, is the distance he could have already traveled before authorities started looking for him.

“The search area starts to grow every hour he could be in a car or be on foot,” Boyer said. “It gets pretty daunting, to be honest.”

Laundrie Has Not Been Charged With a Crime

Laundrie has not cooperated with police in their search for Petito, and because he has not been charged with a crime or been named a suspect, police are unable to do any more than file a search warrant.

The FBI executed a search warrant Monday on Laundrie’s parents’ home, where he lived with Petito.

The FBI removed Christopher and Roberta Laundrie from the home, executed the search warrant, and then brought them back inside for questioning, Taylor said. The search of the home concluded Monday evening, the FBI wrote on Twitter.

Police visited the home last week but the family refused to talk and instead gave authorities their attorney’s information, Taylor said.

On Saturday, Taylor reiterated police were limited in what they could do because “we don’t have a crime.”

“Laundrie is not a suspect in a crime. We think he is likely one of the last people to see Gabby Petito alive, and for that reason he’s a very important witness,” said Andrew McCabe, CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former deputy director of the FBI.

Before he vanished, Laundrie was silent about Petito’s disappearance. North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told CNN’s Don Lemon last week that Laundrie had invoked his Fifth Amendment right, which generally means a person cannot be forced to make statements they feel might be negative or used against them.

Steve Moore, retired FBI supervisory special agent, told CNN on Monday that in order to obtain a search warrant, authorities would need to have probable cause there had been a crime and the person at the home was involved in the crime.

“What I believe people in law enforcement are doing right now are making sure they have all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted because I think they believe—and I believe—they know who did this and they want to make sure their case is perfect at this point,” Moore said.

McCabe told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Monday police had gotten to the point where “the search warrant absolutely has to be executed.”

“Primarily, I think what the investigators will be looking for are anything that he may have written, any recordings of his thoughts, if he wrote any notes, if he kept a journal,” or any electronic activity and history he may have, McCabe said.

The CNN Wire and The Associated Press contributed to this report