Where is Brian? Dive team called to preserve amid search for person of interest in Gabby Petito case
VENICE, Fla. - Florida law enforcement ended another day of searching for Brian Laundrie at a Sarasota County preserve 24 hours after a Wyoming coroner confirmed the remains found near Grand Teton National Park do belong to Gabby Petito – and she died as a result of homicide.
On Wednesday, North Port police said search crews once again began combing through the 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve in Venice to track down Brian, the sole person of interest in the case. Before daybreak, Sarasota police said they've received several calls and emails overnight due to rumors that Brian was in custody. However, that is not the case, they said.
Just before noon, divers with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Dive Team were called to the site as investigators began searching the swampier areas of the preserve.
Investigators said Brian hasn’t been seen since September 14, according to his parents, who said they believed he was at the park. Officials turned their attention to the Carlton Reserve over the weekend. The preserve is closed until further notice, according to the non-profit, Friends of Carlton Reserve.
Now, over the weekend, investigators scoured the reserve but search efforts were focused on the North Port end. They paused their search Monday – the day the FBI served a search warrant at Brian’s parents’ home in North Port – resuming Tuesday, this time in Venice, on the other side of the reserve.
Tuesday, investigators were out in full force once again, utilizing drones, swamp buggies and dogs to try and pick up a trail on Brian.
Brian Laundrie missing
This is not a small search. The Carlton Reserve is a large area – more than 25,000 acres of heavily wooded and swampy land. A plethora of wildlife that call it home, including gators and snakes.
Rain over the past few days hasn’t made investigators’ job of looking for Brian any easier.
"The terrain is difficult, essentially 75% of it is underwater," Commander Joe Fussell with the North Port Police Department explained Tuesday before rain arrived in the area. "Other areas that are dry. We are trying to clear. We are expecting to get wet by the end of the day and check the entire area for Brian Laundrie."
MORE: FBI confirms Gabby Petito's remains found in Wyoming; manner of death 'homicide'
At this point, it’s unclear as to what Brian’s parents have told investigators about his whereabouts or why the search has shifted to the Venice side of the reserve. Many believe Brian is using Florida's expansive wooded areas to his advantage to evade authorities.
According to North Port police, Tuesday’s search of the reserve turned up nothing of note and authorities also said that reports of several suspected sightings of Brian have turned out not to be true.
For example, on Tuesday, deputies in the Florida Panhandle were checking into a Facebook post that showed a person of similar description on a rural trail cam in the community of Baker, but it did not appear to be leading to any solid intel.
Search teams gather Wednesday morning (NPPD photo)
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After not speaking with investigators for days, the Laundrie family eventually told investigators Brian had left days earlier with a backpack, heading for the preserve. The family’s attorney said Brian’s parents actually went looking for him on Wednesday and found his car parked at the preserve, but they left it so he could drive home.
However, when he didn’t return Thursday morning, the parents say they went to retrieve the car themselves.
RELATED: Details of Gabby Petito's Utah fight with fiancé Brian Laundrie revealed in witness statement to police
Gabby Petito autopsy
Yesterday, a coroner confirmed that a body found Sunday in Wyoming was indeed Gabby. They said the manner of death was homicide. Investigators believe Brian – Gabby's fiancé – is the last person to see her alive.
The remains were discovered Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest after a national search for the 22-year-old. Video captured by a vacationing Tampa family accidentally caught what appeared to be the couple's van parked at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in the forest; Gabby's body was later found nearby.
Her body was found nearly three weeks after Brian returned home to North Port with the camper van – without Gabby. Brian was later named a person of interest in her disappearance. The remains were discovered Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest after a national search for the 22-year-old.
A search warrant released Monday revealed that police had already searched the couple's van and found an external hard drive they plan to search for any clues.
An attorney for the Petito family says Brian is not missing but rather on the run, adding that the Laundrie family’s request to have the North Port police look for their son but not for Gabby is "reprehensible and hypocritical."
Investigators are still asking the public for help in locating Brian Laundrie. They say he is a white male, 5-foot-8 and weighing 160 pounds. He has brown eyes, very short brown hair, trimmed facial hair, and was last seen wearing a hiking bag with a waist strap.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.
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