Boyfriend of missing North Port woman now a ‘person of interest,’ police say
NORTH PORT, Fla. (WWSB) - North Port Police said Wednesday the boyfriend of a woman who vanished while the two were on a cross-country trip is now a “person of interest” in the case and continues to refuse to cooperate with investigators.
A news conference is scheduled for noon Thursday where North Port Police and the FBI are expected to release new information.
Brian Laundrie returned to North Port alone Sept. 1 after Gabrielle Petito, a 22-year-old Long Island, New York native, disappeared last month in Wyoming. The couple had been documenting their trip with frequent posts on social media when the posts abruptly stopped Aug. 25.
Petito was last believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Her family says she stopped communicating with them in late August. They filed a missing person report with police in Suffolk County, New York. The North Port Police Department confirmed Wednesday they are now the lead agency in the case, in cooperation with the FBI.
Laundrie has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators, North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor said at a news conference Wednesday. “We don’t know what Brian knows, that’s the bottom line. We’re hopeful to talk to him. He needs to talk to us.”
Tayor said Laundrie returned to North Port on Sept. 1 — 10 days before her family reported her missing on Sept. 11.
North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison has been blunt. “The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “The answers will eventually come out. We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved in her disappearance,” he said.
Laundrie’s lawyer, Steven Bertolino, released a statement Tuesday saying “It is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is re-united with her family. On the advice of counsel the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”
Meanwhile, the white Ford Transit van the couple used, and that Laundrie drove back to Florida in, was seized processed for evidence along with FBI agents Tuesday evening.
Petito’s family says they do not know if she is in danger, but they want her home.
A spokesman for the family released a statement Wednesday demanding answers from Laundrie. “Brian, how could you do this to Gabby? You selfishly remain silent while Gabby is all alone in the wilderness,” attorney Richard Stafford wrote.
Petito is described as a white female, approximately five feet, 5 inches tall 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.”
A family friend, Gary Rider, told ABC7 Tuesday that he was meeting Petito’s stepfather in Wyoming to meet with investigators and backtrack her known locations, hoping to verify some information received through tips. A GoFundMe account has been established to help offset costs from the search. “Upon a conclusion, any additional funds will be donated to a charity of the families choosing,” Rider said.
The FBI has set up a national hotline to receive tips. 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324). That is now the our primary tip line. So far, North Port police say, investigators have received hundreds of tips which are being vetted through multiple agencies.
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