Authorities in at least two states were working Monday to solve the mystery of Gabby Petito, hours after the FBI announced that remains found in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest are likely those of the 22-year-old blogger.
Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie, 23, had been high school sweethearts on Long Island, New York. Laundrie's parents later moved to North Port, Florida, and Petito and Laundrie were living with them when they began their cross-country expedition.
The couple left Long Island in July, planning to tour national parks and arrive in Oregon late next month. But Laundrie returned home alone with the van Sept. 1. Petito's family filed a missing persons report on Sept. 11 after not hearing from their daughter since late August.
Police have described Laundrie as a person of interest in the case. Laundrie and his family members repeatedly declined to discuss Petito's disappearance with law enforcement – until Friday, when his family said Laundrie himself was missing.
Where is Brian Laundrie?
Laundrie's family said they last saw him Tuesday, when he packed up a car and told them he was going hiking. Family members found his car the next day near the Carlton Reserve, a nearby 25,000-acre, Sarasota County recreation area. A note on the car from the North Port Police Department said it needed to be removed, Steven Bertolino, Laundrie's family attorney, said in a statement seen by ABC7. The family removed the car the next day, he said.
Dozens of law enforcement officers have been searching the vast stretches of hiking trails and brush for any sign of Laundrie. Drones, scent-sniffing dogs and all-terrain vehicles aided the search. Investigators took some of his clothing from his parents’ home to provide a scent for the search dogs.
Authorities were returning to the reserve Monday to continue the search.
Remains of Gabby believed to be found
The FBI said law enforcement combing through a camping area on the eastern border of Grand Teton National Park found human remains that appear to be those of Petito. Authorities will conduct a forensic review to verify the remains, according to Charles Jones, a special agent with the FBI's Denver office. He declined to provide specifics on where the body was found or what clues led to the discovery. A cause of death was not immediately clear, he said.
"I would like to extend sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby's family," Jones said. "As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time."
Social media sleuths seek clues:What happened to Gabby Petito? Mystery prompts online searches
The investigation tracks Petito's whereabouts
Jones said investigators were still seeking information from anyone who may have seen Petito or Laundrie around the Spread Creek camping area in Wyoming, where law enforcement search efforts focused over the weekend. According to Petito's family, they were last in contact with her during the last week of August. A verified GoFundMe page set up to raise funds says Petito was "last known to be in Grand Teton, Wyoming on 8/25/21 heading toward Yellowstone National Park."
“The last text I got from her was on Aug. 30," Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, told WFLA-TV. "I don’t know if that was her texting me or not.”
Couple takes cross-country excursion
The couple were traveling in a white 2012 Ford Transit van with a Florida license plate. The van had been converted so the two could live and travel comfortably, social media posts from Petito said. The only video posted on the couple's joint YouTube page was "Nomadic Statik," which was created and posted Aug. 19.
The eight-minute video titled “Van Life: Beginning our Van Life Journey” features happy and romantic scenes from the couple’s trip.
Video offers details on clash in Utah
But issues had arisen before Aug. 19, and authorities have released information showing the couple got into a dispute in Utah a week earlier. A video released by the Moab Police Department shows an officer pulled over the van on Aug. 12 after it was seen speeding and hit a curb near the entrance to Arches National Park. The body camera video shows Petito visibly upset when an officer approached them.
“We’ve just been fighting this morning. Some personal issues,” she tells him, adding that she suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder that affects her behavior.
Laundrie told an officer that Petito slapped him after friction had been building between them for several days. The officer wrote in a report that the two had been traveling together for several months, and the closeness created an "emotional strain" leading to more arguments. Officers in the video told the couple to sleep in separate places for the night.
"I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis," the officer concluded in the report.