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Top unanswered questions about Gabby Petito's death and Brian Laundrie's disappearance

·9-min read
gabby petito missing poster
A makeshift memorial dedicated to missing woman Gabby Petito is located near City Hall on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida. Octavio Jones/Getty Images
  • Some questions about Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie's fateful road trip remain unanswered.

  • Laundrie is the subject of a massive manhunt by several authorities, including the FBI.

  • Petito died by strangulation, a Wyoming coroner announced Tuesday.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Gabby Petito's disappearance made national headlines in September, coming to a head after the FBI identified a body found in Wyoming as the 22-year-old travel vlogger in late September.

Petito's fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, is under public scrutiny. The couple embarked on a cross-country road trip over the summer, documenting their travels via social media. Laundrie returned to his parents' home in North Port, Florida, without her on September 1. Petito's mother reported her missing on September 11.

The case then took another turn when Laundrie's family initially told authorities that he had been missing since September 14 after he went on a hike to the Carlton Reserve in Florida and never returned home. But earlier this week, they claimed their son vanished on September 13, a day earlier than what they previously told police.

Several questions are still left unanswered on what transpired during the tragic road trip as authorities search for Laundrie.

Where is Brian Laundrie?

Laundrie is the subject of a massive manhunt being conducted by several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. For more than a week, authorities - in search of Laundrie - have scoured the 25,000-acre, alligator-and-snake-infested swampy Carlton Reserve by air and ground.

"We are not wasting our time out here. We are doing our due diligence to find Brian in an area that intelligence had led us that he could possibly be in," North Port Police Commander Joe Fussell said while walking through the nature preserve on September 24 in a video released by the police department.

However, the North Port Police Department said on September 27 that the search for Laundrie inside the reserve will be "scaled back" this week.

"I don't think you're going to see those large scale types of efforts this week," department spokesman Josh Taylor told Insider, adding that the FBI "is now leading the search" for Laundrie.

"I'm told it will be scaled back and targeted based on intelligence," Taylor said, explaining, "Hopefully, water will lower in areas hard to currently access" inside of the nature preserve.

The FBI continues to seek the public's help in relation to the case. Relevant information may be submitted to the FBI at: tips.fbi.gov, 1-800-CALL-FBI or 303-629-7171.

How did Gabby Petito die?

Petito was strangled to death, according to the Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue, who made the announcement on October 12.

On September 19, a body that authorities said was "consistent with the description" of Petito was found in the remote Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The FBI and the Petito family's lawyer later confirmed that the remains belonged to Petito, and her death was ruled a possible homicide on September 21.

An autopsy report found that Petito's cause of death was strangulation, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announced on October 12. Blue said her body was outside in the "wilderness" for three to four weeks before it was discovered.

Petito's remains were found on September 19, making the likely time of death between August 22 to August 29, three to four weeks before when her body was found. Blue said there "will not be an exact date of death on the death certificate."

Beyond a hard drive, did authorities find anything in the van?

The white converted 2012 Ford Transit van that Petito and Laundrie drove on their cross-country road trip out West was seized by police on September 14.

The van was recovered from the Laundrie family's North Port home, and the vehicle was "fully processed for evidence," authorities have said.

Inside the vehicle, an external hard drive was found, according to a September 15 Florida search warrant. Authorities have not yet provided any more information about what other potential evidence may have been found inside the van.

What were the surroundings like where Petito was found?

Petito's remains were discovered in the remote Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area of Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest on the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park.

The 3.4 million-acre Bridger-Teton National Forest features "pristine watersheds, abundant wildlife, and immense wildlands," according to the US Forest Service. It offers nearly 1.2 million acres of "designated wilderness," more than 3,000 miles of road and trail, and thousands of miles of "unspoiled rivers and streams," according to the agency.

The specific location where Petito's body was found is considered an undeveloped campground where there are no services such as drinking water and trash removal.

Where are their phones?

Laundrie's attorney, Steven Bertolino, has previously told Insider that when Laundrie left his family's home on September 14, he had no cell phone on him or wallet and has "no known means of communication."

On September 29, Bertolino said Laundrie bought a new cell phone after returning from his cross-country trip. Bertolino has confirmed to Insider that the FBI is currently in possession of Laundrie's newly purchased cell phone but is unsure if they have his old phone as well.

It is not clear at this point where Petito's cell phone is.

According to a Florida search warrant granting police permission to search the black Western Digital external hard drive that was found in the van, the final text message that Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, received from Petito's phone was on August 27.

The text Schmidt received was an "odd" one and made the mother "concerned that something was wrong with her daughter," according to the warrant viewed by Insider.

"Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls," the text message read.

The warrant said "Stan" is the name of Petito's grandfather, but Schmidt told authorities that her daughter never called him "Stan."

The lawyer for Petito's family, Richard Stafford, previously told Insider that the last text message sent from Petito's cell phone to her mother was on August 30 and it warned that the young woman did not have cell service in California's Yosemite National Park.

"No service in Yosemite," that text message read, Stafford said.

Schmidt, according to Stafford, is convinced that Petito did not send the text message.

What was the nature of their relationship?

What we do know about their relationship is an incomplete picture provided by family, friends, and a police report of an incident in early August.

Petito and Laundrie both grew up in New York's Long Island, Petito's family told reporters. The two met while they attended Bayport-Blue Point High School in Bayport, New York, and they later rekindled their relationship after graduation.

Ben Matula, a friend of Laundrie who knew the couple since they started dating as teenagers, told People Magazine that things were often tense between them, saying "there was always something below the surface where things weren't 100% wonderful."

The couple had been living together for roughly the last two years in the North Port home where Laundrie's parents also live. They got engaged in July 2020, according to an Instagram post by Petito.

"Brian asked me to marry him and I said yes!" read the post, which added, "You make life feel unreal, and everyday is such a dream with you."

Stafford has told reporters that the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on the couple's wedding plans, saying they "couldn't have a wedding or the wedding they wanted, so that was put on hold."

"They decided to go on their trip instead," Stafford said.

They documented their road trip on social media. Following Petito's disappearance, the picturesque facade of their travels began to crumble after local authorities released body camera footage of an August 12 dispute.

Officers from the Moab City Police Department responded to a 911 caller saying a "male hit a female," describing a fight between Petito and Laundrie on August 12 - weeks before the 22-year-old travel vlogger was reported missing and her fiancé returned to their home in Florida alone on September 1.

"The female who got hit, they both - the male and the female - both got into the van and headed north," the dispatcher said in an audio recording obtained by Utah news station KTSU.

After interviewing Petito, Laundrie, and the bystander who called in the incident, the police officer described it "more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health 'break' than a domestic assault." The police report stated that Petito struck Laundrie after she thought he was going to get in the van and drive away after their argument.

No arrests were made and neither Petito nor Laundrie pressed charges against the other, though police initially said they were going to charge Petito with domestic violence in the incident but decided against it after she said she had no intent to hurt Laundrie.

Brian Laundrie's sister Cassie told WABC-TV on September 18 that, upon seeing the body camera footage from August 12, it seemed "typical of both of them."

"Whenever they fight, they would take a little break and come back and be fine, because that's what you do in a couple - sit there in the mountains together," she said.

What will happen if Laundrie is found?

If Laundrie is found alive by authorities, he will be arrested on a bank fraud-related charge.

A federal court in Wyoming issued an arrest warrant for Laundrie in connection with his activities following the disappearance and death of Petito on September 23.

The single-count indictment against Laundrie alleges that he "knowingly and with intent to defraud" used one or more "unauthorized access devices," including a Capital One debit bank card, from August 30 to September 1 following the death of Petito.

Laundrie is accused of spending at least $1,000 on the card during those three days, according to the indictment. Authorities did not confirm whom the card belonged to, but on Tuesday, Richard Stafford, the Petito family lawyer, claimed Laundrie stole and used Petito's card.

"He ran, he stole her credit card, he used her credit card to get home, and then ran from the police," Staffprd said. "That's going to show a lot what he was thinking back then."

Laundrie does not yet face any other charges.

This article has been updated with new information.

Read the original article on Insider

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