Remains Believed to Be Missing Woman in Van Mystery Are Found

2021-09-20 14:52:29

Human remains believed to be a Florida woman reported missing after her fiancé returned home from a monthslong van trip without her were found in a national park in Wyoming on Sunday, the F.B.I. said at a news conference.

“Earlier today, human remains were discovered, consistent with a description of Gabrielle (Gabby) Petito,” said Charles Jones, an F.BI. agent, adding that a full forensic identification had not been completed to confirm the remains were those of Ms. Petito, 22.

“On behalf of the F.B.I. personnel and our partners, I would like to extend sincere, sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family,” said Mr. Jones, who did not take questions at the news conference. “As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We ask that you all respect their privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter.”

A cause of death had not been determined, Mr. Jones said.

The remains were found in the area of the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area, located in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park, Mr. Jones said, adding that the campsite will remain closed. Anyone who had been in the camping area between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30 was urged to contact the F.B.I., Mr. Jones said.

The discovery of the remains believed to be that of Ms. Petito appeared to end one search for a missing person as another continued for her missing fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, after his parents told the police they had not seen him in days.

Mr. Laundrie, whom the police have called a “person of interest,” had through a lawyer declined to speak with investigators, the police said. When his parents told the police that he, too, was missing, a search for him began that included scouring a vast Florida wildlife refuge.

On Sunday night, Joseph Petito, Ms. Petito’s father, posted a photo of her on Twitter.

“She touched the world,” he said.

The North Port Police Department said they were “saddened and heartbroken to learn that Gabby has been found deceased.”

Lawyers for the Petito family and Mr. Laundrie did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday night.

As the police, F.B.I. agents and National Park rangers searched for Ms. Petito in Wyoming, the woman’s last known whereabouts, according to her family, the authorities in Florida searched for Mr. Laundrie in the refuge, a 24,565-acre park in Sarasota County called the Carlton Reserve. On Sunday afternoon, the police in North Port, Fla., said their search at the Carlton Reserve had ended for the day with nothing new to report.

“We will continue to work with the F.B.I. in the search for more answers,” they said.

Ms. Petito left with Mr. Laundrie in July in a white Ford van outfitted for a cross-country adventure. On Sept. 1, Mr. Laundrie returned to the home in North Port, Fla., where he lived with his parents and Ms. Petito, in the white van that the couple had used for the trip and that had been registered to Ms. Petito.

Ten days later, Ms. Petito was reported missing by her parents on Sept. 11, according to the police.

In the days after Ms. Petito was reported missing, the authorities expressed “frustration” in their efforts to speak to Mr. Laundrie, who has not been declared a suspect in the case.

The case has drawn widespread attention, as reporters have gathered outside Mr. Laundrie’s house and some in the public have scoured the couple’s Instagram accounts, which depicted a seemingly carefree, nomadic “van life” in the American West.

Ms. Petito and Mr. Laundrie left New York on July 2 for what was supposed to be a four-month, cross-country trip visiting national parks, said Ms. Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt. The couple posted photos and cheerful updates on Instagram and YouTube, and outfitted the van with a bed, tiny bookcases and plants and art.

But something apparently went wrong in Moab, Utah, Ms. Petito’s family said.

On Aug. 12, police officers there responded to a report of a “domestic problem” after Mr. Laundrie had “some sort of argument” with Ms. Petito and told her to take a walk and calm down, according to a police report.

Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito both told the officers that they were in love and engaged to be married and “desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” the report said.

Mr. Laundrie told one officer that “issues between the two had been building over the last few days,” it said.

During the encounter with the police, Ms. Petito cried and said she suffered from anxiety, according to body camera footage of the episode. In the police report, Ms. Petito is recorded saying she moved to slap Mr. Laundrie because she feared that he “was going to leave her in Moab without a ride.”

Both told the police that the episode should be classified as a “mental/emotional health ‘break,’” rather than as a domestic assault.

In the report, the police described Mr. Laundrie as the victim of the incident. They arranged for him to stay in a hotel that night while Ms. Petito kept the van. No charges were filed, the report states.

In social media posts published before and after Aug. 12, the couple documented their trip, including with many photos of Ms. Petito posing against backdrops of nature. The YouTube video showed the couple kissing, scaling rocks and laughing at how the Utah sun had melted the chocolate in Mr. Laundrie’s granola.

“I love the van,” Ms. Petito said, smiling at Mr. Laundrie.

Ms. Petito, the oldest of six siblings, had worked as a pharmacy technician to save money for the trip. She met Mr. Laundrie at Bayport-Blue Point High School on Long Island, Mr. Schmidt said. They began dating after graduation and moved two years ago to Florida, he said.

In their posts from 2020, the couple expressed excitement about their future.

Alan Yuhas contributed reporting.

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