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Attorney: Police ask for personal items of Petito’s fiancé for DNA matching

Sep 27, 2021, 7:18 PM
In this photo provided by North Port Police Department, law enforcement officials conduct a search ...
In this photo provided by North Port Police Department, law enforcement officials conduct a search of the vast Carlton Reserve in the Sarasota, Fla., area for Brian Laundrie on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Laundrie is a person of interest in the disappearance of his girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito. (North Port Police Department via AP)
(North Port Police Department via AP)

Originally Published: 27 SEP 21 03:19 ET
Updated: 27 SEP 21 18:05 ET

(CNN) — As authorities continue to search for Gabby Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, the FBI has asked for items that might have his DNA, the Laundries’ family lawyer said.

During the agency’s visit to the family home, “The FBI requested some personal items belonging to Brian Laundrie to assist them with DNA matching and Brian’s parents provided the FBI with what they could,” the Laundries’ lawyer, Steven Bertolino, told multiple news outlets.

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FBI agents returned to the Florida home Laundrie shared with his parents Sunday, as seen in video shot by CNN. At least two agents could be seen at the home and one had a bag in his hand.

Laundrie’s parents told authorities on September 17 that the 23-year-old left their home days earlier with his backpack and said he was headed to the Carlton Reserve. A source close to the family told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Laundrie left his parents’ home without his cell phone and wallet.

Since then, investigators have scoured the Carlton Reserve, the “vast and unforgiving” 25,000 acres of swampland that’s home to alligators and snakes. Drones, dive teams and bloodhounds joined in the extensive search effort, according to the North Port Police Department.

Police said the FBI has taken over the search and indicated it will be of a smaller scale.

“I don’t think you’re going to see those large-scale types of efforts this week. The FBI is now leading the search. I’m told it will be scaled back and targeted based on intelligence,” police spokesman Josh Taylor told CNN in a message. “Hopefully, water will lower in areas hard to currently access.”

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Laundrie’s disappearance came at the height of the search for Petito. The two had gone on a road trip together, chronicling their travels on social media with the hashtag #VanLife, but Laundrie returned to the home they shared with his parents on September 1 without her. Authorities later found Petito’s remains in a national forest in Wyoming and her death was ruled a homicide.

Petito’s disappearance has stirred heartbreak and outrage in many and spurred digital detectives to comb through the couple’s online trail to try to solve the case. It also highlights the tens of thousands of missing persons’ cases across the country.

Laundrie faces a federal warrant for his arrest for the “use of unauthorized devices” stemming from his actions following Petito’s death. Laundrie allegedly used a debit card and PIN number for accounts that did not belong to him for charges exceeding $1,000 between the dates of August 30 and September 1, according to a federal indictment.

An attorney for Laundrie’s family emphasized in a statement that the warrant was not for Petito’s death but related to activities that allegedly took place afterward.

Two separate rewards totaling $30,000 have been offered to anyone who provides law enforcement officials with Laundrie’s whereabouts.

What we know about Laundrie’s movements

Petito, 22, and Laundrie embarked on a cross-country trip in June and were visiting national parks. They posted online regularly about their travels with the hashtag #VanLife, but those posts abruptly stopped in late August.

A 911 caller told dispatchers August 12 he saw a man hitting a woman, according to previously obtained audio provided by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office in Moab, Utah.

“We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,” the caller said. “Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off.”

In his report, Officer Eric Pratt said Petito had slapped Laundrie, “who grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van.”

Another responding officer, Daniel Robbins, said Petito had “gone into a manic state” when Laundrie tried to “separate from her so they could both calm their emotions.” He reported seeing “minor visible scratches” on Laundrie’s face.

Bodycam video of the incident shows Petito telling police the couple had been fighting earlier that morning and were “going through some personal issues.”

“He wouldn’t let me in the car before,” Petito said.

The officer asks Petito, “because of your OCD?”

She responds, “He told me I needed to calm down, but I’m already calm.”

“I have OCD and sometimes I get really frustrated,” she said.

Moab police suggested the couple go their separate ways that night; no charges were filed.

On August 26, Jessica Schultz saw Laundrie parked in a white van at Grand Teton National Park, and no one appeared to be with him, she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The next day, Nina Angelo and her boyfriend, Matt England, saw a “commotion” as Petito and Laundrie were leaving the Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming, she told CNN.

Petito was in tears and Laundrie was visibly angry, going into and out of the restaurant several times, showing anger toward the staff around the hostess stand, Angelo said. The couple’s waitress was also visibly shaken by the incident, said Angelo, who told CNN she did not see any violence or physical altercation between Petito and Laundrie.

A manager at Merry Piglets, who declined to give her name, did see “an incident” at the restaurant and called the FBI, she told CNN. The manager declined to describe what happened and said the restaurant did not have surveillance video of the incident.

Norma Jean Jalovec, a seasonal Wyoming resident, told CNN that she picked up Laundrie not far from Jackson Lake Dam on August 29, around 6:15 p.m., and gave him a ride to the Spread Creek dispersed campground where Petito’s remains were later found.

Laundrie was hitchhiking, Jalovec said, and got in the passenger seat of her Toyota SUV 4-Runner.

According to Jalovec, Laundrie told her he and his fiancée had a travel blog, that she was in their van at the camping area working on the blog, and that he had been hiking along the Snake River embankment for a few days.

A neighbor who lives directly across the street from the home Petito shared with Laundrie and his family told CNN the last time she saw Laundrie at the North Port home was the weekend of September 10.

Karyn Aberts said she saw Laundrie and his family “in the neighborhood out in the front yard,” saying it looked like “a normal … they were going for a walk kind of thing,” and that she “never thought anything about it.”

Petito was reported missing by her family the next day.

‘Love and give love like she did’

As investigators continued their search for Laundrie Sunday, friends, family and strangers gathered in Holbrook, New York, to pay their respects to Petito.

Joseph Petito described his daughter in a eulogy as a “happy girl,” who people would gravitate toward. She made others feel welcome, he said, and she loved being outdoors, scuba diving, hiking the Appalachian Trail or snowboarding down sand dunes in Colorado.

“I want you to be inspired by Gabby, that’s what we’re looking for,” Joseph Petito said. “If there’s a trip that you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you’ve got the time.

“If there’s a relationship that you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now,” he said, an apparent reference to his daughter’s relationship with Laundrie.

Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, also gave a eulogy, telling those gathered, “Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. That’s not how this is supposed to work.”

Petito provides “an example for all of us to live by,” Schmidt said, “to enjoy every moment in this beautiful world, as she did — to love and give love to all like she did.”

The-CNN-Wire
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Attorney: Police ask for personal items of Petito’s fiancé for DNA matching