NORTH PORT, Fla. – Police in Florida said they are working with the FBI to find 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, whose girlfriend disappeared during a cross-country trek in a converted van.
North Port police said late Friday that Laundrie's parents told them that they haven't seen him since Tuesday. Police said they spoke with the family at the family's request.
Laundrie and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, left in July on a journey that took them to national parks out West. She was reported missing on Sept. 11 by her family and is now the subject of a nationwide search joined by the FBI.
Investigators said Laundrie returned in the van to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1. They’ve identified him as a person of interest in the case.
The investigation is now a “multiple missing person” case, police said, adding that they are not investigating a crime.
An attorney for Brian Laundrie, Steven Bertolino, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press on Friday night.
Earlier in the week, Petito's family pleaded for the Laundrie family to tell them where their son last saw her. Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts who met while growing up on Long Island. His parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Sarasota.
Police video released by the Moab Police Department in Utah showed that an officer pulled the van over on Aug. 12 after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb near the entrance to Arches National Park. The body cam video showed an emotional Petito, who sat inside a police cruiser while officers also questioned Laundrie.
Laundrie says on the video the couple got into a minor scuffle that began when he climbed into the van with dirty feet, and said he didn’t want to purue a domestic violence charge against Petito, who officers decided was the aggressor.
He told the officers he wasn't going to pursue charges because he loves her. “It was just a squabble. Sorry it had to get so public,” Laundrie says on the video.
Ultimately Moab police decided not file any charges and instead separated the couple for the night, with Laundrie checking into a motel and Petito remaining with the converted sleeper van.
The official conversation with the family came shortly after the North Port chief Garrison had publicly vented frustration over Brian Laundrie's lack of help on Wednesday, pleading for Laundrie’s lawyer to arrange a conversation. “Two people left on a trip and one person returned!” an earlier tweet by the police chief had said.
Their trek in the Fort Transit van began in July from New York’s Long Island, where both grew up. They intended to reach Oregon by Halloween according to their social media accounts, but Petito vanished after her last known contact with family in late August from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, authorities said.
Laundrie drove the Ford Transit van back to Florida on Sept. 1 alone, police said. Petito’s family filed a missing persons report last Saturday with police in Suffolk County, New York.
Petito’s parents released a letter through their attorney on Thursday to Laundrie’s parents, asking them to help investigators locate Petito, despite their instinct to protect their son.
Bertolino, Laundrie’s attorney, said the Laundrie family is hoping for Petito’s safe return, but he had asked them not to speak with investigators.
“We’re still trying to nail down geographic areas,” Garrison said recently. “There’s a lot of information we are going through. Our focus is to find Gabby.”
In other developments, a sheriff in Utah said Friday that detectives have determined there is no connection between Petito's disappearance on the trip and a still-unsolved slaying of two women who were fatally shot at a campsite near Moab, Utah — the same tourist town where Petito and Laundrie had the fight in which police intervened.
The two women's bodies were found Aug. 18, six days after the traffic stop involving Laundrie and Petito. The two women, Kylen Schulte, 24, and Crystal Turner, 38, had told friends they feared a “creepy man” they had seen nearby might harm them.
Utah’s Grand County Sheriff Steven White said without elaboration in a news release the two cases were unrelated.