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The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia)

Gabby Petito murder: FBI hunting boyfriend Brian Laundrie as ‘person of interest’

Natalie Wolfe

The North Port Police Department

America’s top police and FBI agents have ramped up their hunt where the boyfriend of murdered woman Gabby Petito vanished.

It’s been almost a week since Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of murdered woman Gabby Petito, disappeared from his family’s Florida home without a trace.

Mr Laundrie is the key “person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation into the murder of Ms Petito, whose remains were found in a remote section of Grand Teton National Park earlier this week.

Dozens of FBI agents and police have since turned their attention to the sprawling Carlton Reserve in Florida where Mr Laundrie’s parents said the 23-year-old went for a hike a week ago and never returned.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, local time, North Port Police Department spokesman Josh Taylor said the reserve was “a vast and unforgiving location”.

“A weekend ground search and aerial search Monday of the 25,000-acre preserve has yet to yield any answers, but we must press on,” Mr Taylor said.

“It is currently waist deep in water in many areas ... This is dangerous work for the search crews as they are wading through gator and snake infested swamps and flooded hiking and biking trails.”

Ms Petito, 22, quit her job and packed her life into a campervan for a cross-country adventure in July with her 23-year-old boyfriend, documenting their journey in a stream of idyllic-seeming Instagram posts.

But, more than two weeks ago, Mr Laundrie returned to his home in North Port, Florida alone in Ms Petito’s van. Her family then filed a missing-person report on September 11.

A few days later, Mr Laundrie disappeared from his family’s home and hasn’t been seen since.

His lawyer, Steven Bertolino, released a peculiar five-word statement today.

“May Gabby rest in peace,” Mr Bertolino said.

The lawyer’s statement came hours after the Teton County Coroner confirmed Ms Petito was likely murdered, with her cause of death still to be determined.

Since Mr Laundrie disappeared, FBI agents and local police have been ramping up their search for the 23-year-old.

The agents have also put pressure on Mr Laundrie’s family.

In a statement issued last Friday, Mr Laundrie’s family claimed they hadn’t seen him since Tuesday.

The lack of information left authorities “frustrated”.

“For six days, the North Port Police Department and the FBI have been pleading with the family to contact investigators regarding Brian’s fiancee, Gabby Petito. Friday is the first time they have spoken with investigators in detail,” police said.

“We are not currently working a crime investigation,” it added. ”We are now working a multiple missing person investigations.”

Searches continue to be conducted in the North Port area, close to Mr Laundrie’s home, but “nothing of note” has been discovered.

Mr Laundrie’s parents told authorities he had left home with a backpack to go on a hike last week in the area and never returned.

Search crews today were hunting for him in Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County, where he allegedly abandoned his Ford Mustang.

Search of the Carlton & nearby lands concluded for the evening. Nothing of note. The current plan is to return Wednesday with a similar operation. We join the FBI in asking for continued public assistance by sharing any info 1-800-CALL FBI or — North Port Police (@NorthPortPolice) September 21, 2021

There have also been unconfirmed reports Mr Laundrie has been spotted more than 800km from his home.

A hiker named Sam Bass said he spotted a man that looked like Mr Laundrie toting a backpack just after 6am on Monday, local time, in the town of Baker, Florida - about 800km away from North Port.

Another theory that’s going viral on social media suggests Mr Laundrie could’ve fled to Puerto Rico.

According to Twitter users, Ms Petito’s account on the hiking app AllTrails recently showed a geotagged location in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

“Can’t sleep because all I can think about is the (Gabby Petito) case,” one user wrote at the weekend.

“Now stalking her AllTrails account, assuming it’s really hers. Why is it saying Puerto Rico?”

This app is the app that Gabby and Brian used to map out their trip… Look at the location for each pic. This app was used every day by her. Her father even stated that she used this every single day. And it’s updated today to Puerto Rico?? — Courtney (@Skabangah) September 17, 2021

A third theory suggests it would’ve been “easy” for Mr Laundrie to get on a plane and flee the US.

In an interview with Insider, private investigator Harvey Morse from Florida’s Locaters International, said Mr Laundrie could’ve evaded detection at an airport given he has not been charged with a crime — and masks are mandatory.

Mr Morse, who has more than 50 years experience as a detective, said the current climate whereby masks must be worn in public, can make identification for missing persons challenging.

“It would be easy for him to get on a plane,” he said.

Mr Morse said police would be considering two separate scenarios regarding Mr Laundrie’s location.

The first is that he is in hiding, potentially overseas, and secondly that he will — or already has — attempted suicide.

It’s now been a week since Mr Laundrie went missing.

In the statement from the FBI today, the bureau asked for help from anyone who “may have had contact with Ms Petito or Mr Laundrie, or who may have seen their vehicle” between August 27-30.

“The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms Petito’s death is held accountable for their actions,” FBI Denver Special Agent In Charge Michael Schneider said.

The statement also urged anyone with information about Laundrie’s “role in this matter or his current whereabouts” to contact them.

The couple embarked on their journey across the United States from New York on the East Coast, posting photos of magnificent views of the American West and the two of them smiling happily next to their small white van.

However, in August, police in Utah responded to a domestic violence report involving the couple.

Police body cam footage published by US media shows a distraught Ms Petito saying she had had an altercation with Mr Laundrie.

Speaking to a police officer after their van was pulled over, Ms Petito is seen crying and saying she struggles with mental health problems.

Ms Petito said she slapped Mr Laundrie after an argument, but added that she meant no harm.

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