Missing Long Island native's boyfriend a person of interest, hindering investigation, police say

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
PD: Gabby Petito's boyfriend a person of interest, hindering search
Kristin Thorne has the latst details in the search for missing Long Island woman Gabby Petito.

BLUE POINT, Long Island (WABC) -- The boyfriend of a missing 22-year-old woman originally from Long Island has officially been named a person of interest in her disappearance, and police in their Florida hometown say he is hindering the investigation.

Gabrielle Petito, whose family is from Blue Point, and Brian Laundrie were on a cross-country trip to Oregon when she stopped communicating with her family somewhere in Wyoming.

"Several detectives are working around the clock to piece this complex and far reaching situation together," said the North Port, Florida, Police Department, which is now the primary investigating agency in partnership with FBI and working with the Suffolk County Police Department.

Authorities say that as of now, Laundrie has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators or provided any helpful details.

He reportedly drove back to Florida alone 10 days before Petito was reported missing, and the events leading up to that are presently unknown.

"As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby's family is going through," North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said. "We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks. The lack of information from Brian is hindering the investigation. The answers will eventually come out."

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Brian Laundrie's attorney, Steve Bertolino, issued a statement on the disappearance of Gabrielle Petito, 22.

When police knocked on their home Saturday night, Laundrie's parents handed them a lawyer's phone number.

"We don't know what Brian knows, that's the bottom line," North Port Police Public Information Officer Josh Taylor said. "We are hopeful to talk to him. He needs to talk to us. We need to know exactly where he was, where she was, their last locations, and the fact he was back here for 10 days. Again, the family reported her missing 10 days later. "

Their van was processed for evidence, and Taylor said there were some materials that will be investigated further.

Petito's family released the following statement Wednesday, pleading for Laundrie to speak up:

"Everyday the search for Gabby continues the Schmidt and Petito family becomes more desperate. They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter's disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home. Brian claims he wants to sit in the background while we search for Gabby in the wilderness of the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Brian left Gabby in the wilderness with grizzly bears and wolves while he sits in the comfort of his home. In his home! Brian, how could you do this to Gabby? You selfishly remain silent while Gabby is all alone in the wilderness. Brian, your silence is reprehensible! We beg you to do the right thing and help us bring Gabby home. Brian, whatever happened in Wyoming, happened. The only thing you can control is what you do now. Tell us where Gabby is. You tarnish your love for her with your silence."

Laundrie's attorney, Steve Bertolino, spoke to Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne, confirming Laundrie is in Florida and that Bertolino has been in contact with both him and his parents. He said his client will not be speaking to police because he has "nothing to offer" them.

Bertolino has instructed him not to speak with authorities, and he also said the home shared by Petito and Laundrie has not been searched.

He said both families are suffering right now and that the Laundrie family wishes the Petito family the best.

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Bertolino also issued the following statement on behalf of his client, addressing Laundrie's silence.

"Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito's absence. In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this, and the warning that 'any statement made will be used against you' is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to with Ms. Petito's disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel, Mr. Laundie is not speaking on the matter. I have been informed that the North Port, Florida, police have named Brian Laundrie as a 'person of interest' in this matter. This formality has not really changed the circumstances of Mr. Laundrie being the focus and attention of law enforcement, and Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel."

The developments come one day after police in Utah confirmed a domestic incident between Petito and Laundrie that happened a few weeks before her disappearance, on August 12.

In the police report out of Moab, Laundrie is listed as the victim as Petito as the suspect, but Chief Bret Edge said there was not enough evidence for charges.

"Neither Brian or Gabrielle were the reporting party," he said. "Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges."

The officer summarized the encounter in the report.

"The male tried to create distance by telling Gabbie to take a walk to calm down," he wrote. "She didn't want to be separated from the male, and began slapping him. He grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van."

Police said all parties agreed that Petito had slapped Laundrie and that he had not struck her, and that there were no serious injuries and no party wanted to press charges.

Petito reportedly told officers she suffers from serious anxiety and other redacted medical conditions, and police categorized the incident as a "mental/emotional health break" rather than a domestic assault. Petito told police that the arguments between the couple had been building over the past couple of days.

They agreed to separate for the night, and police helped Laundrie get a hotel room while Petito took possession of the van.

According to police, the couple did not wish to separate, but officers required them to do so in lieu of no charges being filed. A responding officer deemed Laundrie to be "at low risk of danger or harm as a result of his proximity to his fiancee Gabbie."

Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, said the last video chat she had with her daughter was August 24 or 25, though they exchanged text messages for a few days following.

She has since said she is unsure if it was her daughter actually sending those texts.

"We don't eat, we don't sleep, we're just actively looking for her," she said.

Prior to the last communication, Petito is believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. She was reported missing to the Suffolk County Police Department by her family on September 11 at approximately 6:55 p.m.

"We are coordinating with multiple law enforcement agencies as part of the investigation into Gabrielle Petito's whereabouts," a National Park Service spokesperson said. "As the investigation is ongoing, we do not have any further information to provide at this time."

The couple had been documenting their trip on YouTube, and they were set to arrive in Portland in October.

"We were excited for them," Schmidt said. "I believe she's in danger because she's not in touch with us. She could be alone somewhere. She could be stranded somewhere in the wilderness and she needs help."

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Petito is described as a white female, approximately 5-foot-5 and 110 pounds.

She has blonde hair, blue eyes, and several tattoos, including one on her finger and one on her forearm that reads "Let it be."

Detectives are asking anyone with information on Petito's disappearance to contact Suffolk County police at 1-800-220-TIPS, the North Port Police Department at 941-429-7382, or the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.


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