Traces of a makeshift campsite found in Florida swampland as parents’ lawyer says suspect is likely to still be hiding out there
The focus of the Brian Laundrie manhunt shifted back to the Carlton Reserve in Florida on Thursday after the family attorney said he believes the missing fugitive is still hiding out in the 25,000-acre nature reserve.
Steve Bertolino said Mr Laundrie, 23, may be unaware of the nationwide manhunt for him, telling Fox News: “I believe Brian is still in the preserve. And as such I don’t think he has access to the news.”
As law enforcement ramped up their search of the park on Wednesday, Mr Bertolino also revealed that Brian’s father Chris Laundrie had been asked to join in the hunt for his missing son.
“Since the preserve has been closed to the public, Chris has not been able to look for Brian in the only place Chris and Roberta believe Brian may be,” Mr Bertolino said.
A source close to the Laundrie family revealed “traces” of a campsite had been located in the reserve, CNN reported on Wednesday.
Agencies have been scouring the alligator-infested reserve for several weeks with helicopters, drones, all-terrain vehicles and canine units.
It is now known that Mr Laundrie flew from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Florida on 17 August for six days before returning to join Ms Petito on their road trip.
Mr Bertolino claims Mr Laundrie made the trip to retrieve personal items and close a storage unit that he and Ms Petito had rented, as they were planning to extend their cross-country “van life” tour.
The timing of the trip, which came just days after a 12 August bust-up between the couple and only a few days before the last confirmed sighting of Ms Petito alive, will be of interest to the FBI who are leading the nationwide manhunt.
Also under renewed focus is the date that Mr Laundrie left his parent’s home in North Port Florida.
Chris and Roberta Laundrie originally told authorities that Mr Laundrie had left their home on 14 September when they filed a missing person report three days later.
But that crucial detail was wrong. On 5 October, Mr Bertolino revealed Mr Laundrie had actually last been at the home on 13 September, giving him an extra day’s head start on authorities.
Ms Petito, 22, went missing in late August, having embarked on the road trip with Mr Laundrie, her fiance, which she was documenting extensively on social media.
Ms Petito’s remains were discovered at a remote campsite in Wyoming on 19 September and a coroner announced she had died by homicide several days later.
The FBI announced on 23 September that a federal arrest warrant had been issued for Mr Laundrie.
Here’s a complete timeline of everything we know about Gabby Petito’s death so far:
2 July – Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie set out from New York in her converted white 2012 Ford Transit van. She uploads regular social media posts over the course of the next six weeks on Instagram and YouTube from such beauty spots as Kansas’s Monument Rocks, Colorado Springs, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce National Park in Utah and Canyonlands National Park.
12 August – The pair are seen bitterly arguing in Moab City, Utah. Concerned bystanders eventually call 911 to intervene. Attending officer Daniel Robbins notes the pair appeared to be in midst of a “mental health crisis” and that Mr Laundrie had locked Ms Petito out of the van but she had climbed back in through a window to continue remonstrating with him.
13 August – In a second missing persons incident in the same Utah city, Kylen Schulte and wife Crystal Turner are last seen at Woody’s Tavern. Ms Schulte worked at the Moonflower Co-op, near where Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie had their public fight. She was at work on the day of their fight but finished her shift an hour-and-a-half before it is reported to have occurred.
17 August – Brian Laundrie flies back to Florida from Salt Lake City and stayed there until 23 August. Laundrie attorney Steven Bertolino would later say purpose of the visit was to pick up some items and close a storage unit the couple had rented because they were thinking of extending their road trip, which had been due to end in Oregon in October. Details of this flight were revealed on 6 October.
18 August – The bodies of Ms Schulte and Ms Turner are found by authorities at a campsite in the mountains near Moab City. The women told other campers a “creeper dude” had been near their campsite. No suspect has been identified in their murders.
23 August – Mr Laundrie returns to Salt Lake City.
24 August – Ms Petito spotted with Mr Laundrie checking out of a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah.
25 August – Ms Petito makes her last video call to her mother. This is the last time she is known to have been seen.
26-27 August – Last text messages sent from Ms Petito’s phone, reporting poor mobile signal, which family have since expressed doubt were actually sent by her.
29 August – Tourist Miranda Baker subsequently says on TikTok she and her boyfriend had picked up Mr Laundrie on this date, after finding him hitchhiking by himself at Colter Bay near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. North Port police in Florida confirm to The Independent they have spoken to Ms Baker but decline to provide further details.
1 September – Mr Laundrie returns to North Port in Ms Petito’s van without her, according to police reports.
10 September – Ms Schmidt and Mr Petito text and call the Laundries begging for information about their daughter. In one of the text messages, Mr Petito told the Laundries: “I’m going to call the police, just letting you know, because we have no idea.” The Laundries do not respond.
11 September – Missing person’s investigation opened after Ms Schmidt reports Ms Petito’s disappearance to Suffolk County Police in New York. Search begins near Grand Teton, her last known intended destination. North Port Police seize the couple’s van, but when they visit the house, they do not see Mr Laundrie.
13 September – Brian Laundrie leaves the family home, and according to his parents claims he is going for a hike in the Carlton Reserve. The Laundrie family refuses to allow North Port police to speak to their son and issues statement via their lawyer, Steve Bertolino, saying they will be “remaining in the background”. Ms Petito’s parents Nicole Schmidt and Joe Petito host a press conference, appealing for information.
14 September – Police declare Brian Laundrie “person of interest”. James Schmidt, Ms Petito’s stepfather, flies out to join search in Wyoming. Mr Petito appears on Fox News to berate the Laundries for declining to cooperate with detectives.
15 September – Police release body camera footage of Moab City encounter with officer, in which a tearful Ms Petito takes the blame for the argument.
16 September – Petito family issues statement through their lawyer, Richard Stafford, begging the Laundrie family to help them with the search for Ms Petito.
17 September – Laundrie family call investigators to their home and admit that their son has been missing since 14 September. They would later recant this and say he actually left on 13 September.
18 September – FBI and Florida police launch a major manhunt to find Brian Laundrie, focusing their search on Florida’s 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve.
19 September – Ms Petito’s stepfather Jim Schmidt is shown a favourite sweatshirt belonging to Ms Petito and identifies her from it. FBI later announce that a body has been found in a forest that they believe to be Gabby Petito’s.
20 September – Condolences pour in for the family of Ms Petito, as her father posts a moving tribute to his daughter on Twitter. The North Port Police announce they are suspending the search for Mr Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve as the FBI swarms the Laundrie home to execute a search warrant. The Laundrie home is now considered a crime scene.
21 September – Petito family attorney Mr Stafford confirms to The Independent that the body found in Wyoming is Gabby’s. The FBI announce preliminary results of an autopsy conducted by Teton County coroner Dr Brent Blue confirms her death is a homicide. The exact cause of death has not yet been released.
FBI special agent in charge Michael Schneider asked for help from the public in finding Mr Laundrie: “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.”
The police search for Mr Laundrie resumes at the Carlton Reserve near his house, as law enforcement investigate a possible sighting captured on a deer camera in the Florida Panhandle.
22 September – Law enforcement searching the reserve call in a specialist dive unit from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office at the request of North Port Police. The police department say they have not located anything of interest in the water but had to rule out every possible location where Mr Laundrie might be.
Ms Petito’s parents accuse the Laundrie family attorney Steve Bertolino of attempting to drum up business from the case. In a letter from their lawyer, they demand Mr Bertolino remove a picture of their daughter from his Yelp page and that he cease and desist from posting pictures of her to his social media accounts.
Mr Bertolino responded to say : “I have never used social media or any other electronic platform for advertising other than maintaining a website.”
23 September – The FBI announced that a federal arrest warrant had been issued for Mr Laundrie. According to the bureau’s division in Denver, Colorado, the warrant was issued on 22 September.
“On September 22, 2021, the US District Court of Wyoming issued a federal arrest warrant for Brian Christopher Laundrie pursuant to a Federal Grand Jury indictment related to Mr Laundrie’s activities following the death of Gabrielle Petito,” FBI Denver said in a tweet.
Laundrie family lawyer Mr Bertolino reacted to the arrest warrant by saying that it “is related to activities occurring after the death of Gabby Petito and not related to her actual demise.
Officials in Utah also announce that the Moab City Police Department would be investigated for its handling of an interaction with the couple following a 911 call on 12 August. Officers did not file any charges after interviewing the couple and only told them to split up for the night.
24 September – The North Port Police Department and FBI continue their search of the Carlston Reserve for Brian Laundrie.
People in Utah, New York and Florida engage in memorials for Ms Petito, including candlelight vigils and donation drives to assist the Petito and Schmidt families.
Ms Petito’s family also announced that her memorial visitation would be held on Sunday 26 September in Holbrook, New York, and will be open to the public between 12pm and 5pm. Ms Petito’s father requested that in lieu of flowers, people should donate to a GoFundMe meant to establish a foundation in the woman’s name.
In the afternoon, North Port police provided an update on their search, saying they had not found any trace of Mr Laundrie in the reserve but said they were “not wasting their time” looking for the man in the swamp.
25 September – Dog The Bounty Hunter joins the search for Mr Laundrie in a well-publicised arrival at the Laundrie home. He knocked on the Laundries’ door to attempt to speak with the family but was denied access. Police continued their search for Mr Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve.
Later that evening, Ms Schmidt posted publicly for the first time in over a week, thanking the public for their support in a Facebook post.
26 September – Memorial services are held for Ms Petito in her hometown of Blue Point, New York. The services were open to the public. Joe Petito spoke during the service, asking people to be “inspired” by Ms Petito’s life and to pursue their dreams. He also called on people in toxic relationships to leave them.
The North Port police continued their search for Mr Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve. At the same time, the FBI visited the Laundrie house and collected items for use in DNA matching. Mr Bertolino described the collection as “routine”.
30 September – Moab police release a second officer’s bodycam footage from the 12 August encounter, which shows Ms Petito describe being scratched and grabbed by her boyfriend. The delay in releasing the footage leads to accusations of a cover-up, which the Moab acting police chief denies.
5 October – Ms Petito’s parents and stepparents appear on CBS’s Dr Phil where Joe Petito labels the Laundrie family “cowards”. Ms Schmidt says she first knew her daughter was dead when she learned the couple’s van was back in Florida. They reveal Mr Laundrie had used his girlfriend’s credit card after her death.
Mr Laundrie’s sister Cassie says in an interview with ABC News her parents’ attorney has “thrown her under the bus”, and says she doesn’t know if they are involved.
6 October – A source close to the Laundrie tells CNN that a makeshift campsite has been spotted in the Carlton Reserve. Detectives from the North Port Police Department ask Chris Laundrie to help them with the search for their fugitive son in the Carlton Reserve.
7 October – Family attorney Steve Bertolino says he believes the fugitive is still in the Carlton Reserve and may be unaware of the massive manhunt going on for him.
8 October – North Port Police reveal that Brian Laundrie was under surveillance in the days before he disappeared while the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina says it has received a dozen reports of Mr Laundrie sightings in the state close to the Tennessee border.
Former FBI agent Bryanna Fox speculates that the fugitive must have had help to escape while Nicole and Jim Schmidt give an interview to Fox News in which they reveal that the couple had postponed their wedding because of Covid and call Laundrie “our missing piece of the puzzle”, again urging him to turn himself in.