A federal arrest warrant was issued for Gabby Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, FBI Denver tweeted Thursday.
On September 22, 2021, the U.S. 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. pic.twitter.com/SSrBVbAeBs
— FBI Denver (@FBIDenver) September 23, 2021
According to federal documents, Laundrie is accused of using a Capitol One debit card that does not belong to him and spending $1,000 from Aug. 30 through Sept. 1. This violates a federal statute (use of unauthorized access devices), and he has been indicted by a federal grand jury. The news release from the FBI says Laundrie’s spending activities happened following Gabby’s death.
A missing persons document for Gabby Petito says she carried a Capitol One debit card.
— FBI Denver (@FBIDenver) September 23, 2021
“We would like it to end, but I would like him to be found alive,” neighbor Vallerie Menotti said.
“What’s likely is the parents, Gabby’s parents said, ‘Nobody else was authorized to use the card,’” explained Rich Kolko, WINK News Safety & Security Specialist. “There is where the law is broken.”
As this case shifts from a missing persons case to a criminal investigation, Kolko says this changes the tools of the search.
“That unleashes the full capabilities of the FBI, federal law enforcement to track him down,” Kolko said. “Not only in Southwest Florida, but the whole state, the rest of the nation, and in fact, internationally if he does flee.”
Just hours before the indictment came down, Brian’s parents were meeting with their attorney in Orlando.
“If this was still a missing persons case, there’s really nothing they could do to or with Brian Laundrie,” said Pamella Seay, an FGCU justice studies professor. “He’s still a free man. He hasn’t done anything wrong under the law. So, until that probable cause was shown, they had nothing to hold him for.”
Seay says the criminal indictment also broadens the scope of the investigation.
“You can issue subpoenas,” Seay said. “You can make requests and demands. You can bring people in for questioning at that point.”
Attorney Steve Bertolino, representing Brian Laundrie, released a statement Thursday in response to the arrest warrant for his client.
“It is my understanding that the arrest warrant for Laundrie is related to activities occurring after the death of Petito and not related to her actual demise,” Bertolino shared. “The FBI is focusing on locating Laundrie, and when that occurs, the specifics of the charges covered under the indictment will be addressed in the proper forum.”
Crews continue search for Laundrie in Carlton Reserve
Crews resumed the search for Brian Laundrie Thursday, going back to the Carlton Reserve to try finding Gabby Petito’s fiancé after the young woman’s death was confirmed to be a homicide.
Brian Laundrie’s Mustang was returned to the North Port home around 8:30 a.m. after being processed by law enforcement.
Two family members left the home in a pickup truck, they returned a short time later with the Mustang before departing again in the pickup.
The family then spent most of the day in Orlando meeting with their attorney.
A North Port Police spokesman said they have about 75 personnel from 16 different agencies on the ground searching, along with four swamp buggies.
Search of Brian Laundrie is not cheap
The search of the 25,000-acre land uses a lot of resources from the air, to the ground, to the water, and it’s not cheap.
Peace River K9 Search and Rescue says it could cost up to $250,000 a day.
Law enforcement would not go on record if they would still be using all these resources if they didn’t think Laundrie was in there.
But it’s clear the FBI and all its partners would not be spending so much time and energy there without something to go on.
Tracks, broken branches and footprints — anything that shows Laundrie was there at some point in the last nine days and maybe ventured off the beaten path.
Crews out in the wild don’t know if Laundrie is alive, but they’re searching as if he is.
He would have to survive dangerous heat, bacteria-filled water, mosquito infested swampland and dodge deadly wildlife.
We spoke with a wildlife expert who told us, if Laundrie was there, he would have left evidence of that behind.
“If they’re still out there searching, they may have found some type of evidence that says that he went through there,” said Mark Burrow, blank. “I mean, there’s really no reason for them to continue at this unless they have some sort of possibility, but they’ve seen something, found something.”
Burrow told us the backside of the reserve is undeveloped land. It’s possible Laundrie could have cut through there and found a way out undetected. There was no evidence of that Thursday.
Thursday search for Brian Laundrie in the Carlton beginning. pic.twitter.com/cV3v1JsdHV
— North Port Police (@NorthPortPolice) September 23, 2021
Trying to hide out in the reserve terrain is no easy task
For crews searching for Brian Laundrie in Carlton Reserve, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Nothing about surviving in a swamp is a walk in the park.
“It wouldn’t be easy living out here,” said FGCU professor Win Everham, with the department of ecology and environmental studies. “Just the fact that somebody camps and travels doesn’t make them able to do this.”
This lifestyle requires a deep knowledge that goes outside the camper van.
“So you gotta know where you’re going to get your water from,” Everham said. “You gotta know what you’re gonna eat. You gotta know where you’re going to sleep.”
We know Laundrie left his parents’ house with a backpack.
If he brought a water filter, concentrated food and a hammock to sleep in, it could be doable.
“I have slept in the swamp before for a couple of nights, and it’s just uncomfortable,” Everham said. “You can’t really dry out.”
Camping out longer than a week seems like a bit much for this FGCU professor.
“That feels like close to a maximum for me,” Everham said.
Most people would max out when they learn about gator and snake-infested waters, but we were told that should be the least of our worries.
“They heard the logs breaking; they heard us splashing; they heard us talking,” said FGCU professor Chad Evers, with the department of ecology and environmental studies.
“They’re going that way, as far as they can go,” Everham said.
“I mean, you probably have walked by at least a water moccasin,” Evers said.
It’s easy to miss anything around you in this water, and if Laundrie is in Carlton Reserve, that’s his goal.
“It would be easy to hide in an environment like this,” Evers said. “You can’t really see beyond this immediate area.”
Neighbors grow tired of activity outside their homes
While the scene at the reserve was busy, it’s a different story outside the Laundries’ home. It’s been quiet since Monday, when the FBI served a search warrant and spent hours going through the house.
No one mows the lawn anymore. It’s a small detail, but it speaks to how this neighborhood has been completely upended. Young children living there see the news media, the police and the FBI every day.
Neighbors are frustrated. One woman right across the street from the Laundrie home told WINK News, “No offense to you — we’re ready for you all to leave. We want this nightmare to be over.”
An understandable sentiment. Some have adjusted to this new, chaotic normal, but sometimes the reason behind it hits them with fresh sadness. It’s not just neighbors who are sad, either, as people from 10, even 50 miles away are mourning outside the Laundrie home.
While the neighborhood is not where Petito died, it is where she lived with Laundrie. It is not a particularly young street; there are some younger parents in their 30s and 40s with young children, but very few young adults, so Gabby Petito stuck out. Not seeing her anymore and knowing why is very off-putting for many people.
“When they were first working on the van, we saw him and Gabby working on the van together,” neighbor Karyn Aberts said. “Then, we knew they were gone; that’s really all we knew because the car wasn’t there anymore … I remember noticing he was back, but I didn’t think anything about it. I just thought, ‘Oh, he’s back from a trip.'”
Aberts now knows Petito never made it back to her home. As of early Thursday morning, the Laundrie home is still shut down: lights are still off, blinds are still shut, no movement inside, and still no word from the Laundrie family.
The mail delivery and Uber Eats drivers who have to come to this street are forced to move through a heavy, somber scene, and residents have told WINK News they don’t think that will change until someone finds Brian Laundrie. And at this hour, for them, there’s no hope for that in sight.
Witnesses describe aggressive behavior from Laundrie
Two witnesses who might have been the last people to see Gabby Petito alive are speaking out about a bizarre encounter they saw involving her and then-fiancé Brian Laundrie.
The couple, Nina Celie Angelo and her boyfriend Matthew England, say Laundrie was aggressively arguing with staff at a Mexican restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming. They say he stormed out of the restaurant and came back, and that Petito went back into the restaurant after Laundrie to apologize for his actions.
This is said to have happened on Aug. 27. They told Inside Edition that Petito was emotional.
“We had a front-row view to the whole thing, and… um, yeah, she was visibly upset and she was crying,” Angelo said. “I said, ‘This guy is creeping me out.’ I remember those were my exact words because his temper, you could feel it.”
Aug. 27 is when Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, told police she received an “odd” text message from her daughter, in which she called her grandfather by his first name, “Stan,” something Schmidt says her daughter never did.
Laundrie attorney’s Yelp page receives cease and desist letter for use of Gabby Petito’s image
Lawyers for both the Petito and Laundrie families are going back and forth over pictures of Gabby Petito posted on the website Yelp.
The Petito family demanded Brian Laudrie’s attorney, Steven Bertolino, take down the pictures posted to his Yelp business page. They’re gone now, but the Petito family attorney sent Bertolino a cease and desist letter asking that he not use Petito’s picture “in an effort to gain business.”
Bertolino says he didn’t post them and sent WINK News a text message on the matter.
“This is sad,” Bertolino wrote. “Tuesday, Yelp shut down its page for my firm due to inordinate and unconfirmed posts. I would certainly agree with Mr. Stafford that any such post he is referring to should be removed, but advise him that I have no control over that Yelp site.”
Petito’s family members await answers
People continue to place flowers, balloons and candles at the growing memorial for Gabby Petito in front of North Port City Hall. Two of Petito’s family members spoke to WINK News at the memorial.
Jill and Steven Hengel say they are Petito’s great-aunt and great-uncle. They say seeing this growing memorial and feeling the love from the community has helped them during a devastating time. But they also say that continuing to wait for answers—like what exactly happened to Petito and where Brian Laundrie is—is holding them back from healing.
“I am numb right now,” Jill Hengel said. “I am numb and I am angry. And… but I’m glad Gabby went home free. I’m glad that she’s somewhere up there, watching us. And I’ve been watching all the butterflies that fly around because that was her favorite thing.”
A butterfly release will take place in Petito’s honor at the memorial Saturday evening.
WINK News Anchor Lindsey Sablan was in Wyoming when Gabby Petito’s remains were found. She visited the spot where stones were used to make a cross that marked the spot where she had been. Watch the video above to listen to Lindsey explain the trek through Grand Teton National Park.
TIPS: If you have any information on the homicide of Gabby Petito or the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie, call 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or you can submit a tip online at fbi.gov/tips.
Sept 1 – Brian Laundrie returned to North Port alone.
Sept 14 – Laundrie named a person of interest.
Sept 14 – Laundrie reportedly went to Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County for a hike.
Sept 14 – Last day Laundrie’s family reportedly saw him.
Sept 17 – Parents report Laundrie missing.
Sept 18-19 – Police search Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County.
Sept 19 – Human remains found in the Spread Creek area in Wyoming consistent with the description of Gabby Petito.
Sept 20 – FBI searches the home of Brian Laundrie.
Sept 21 – FBI, FWC, and police resume search for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve.
Sept 21 – Coroner confirms body found in Wyoming is Gabby Petito and manner of death is homicide.
Sept 23 – Mustang returned to Laundrie home after being processed as evidence.
Sept 23 – Search in Carlton Reserve still ongoing.
Sept 23 – Federal arrest warrant issued for Brian Laundrie pursuant to a Federal Grand Jury indictment related to his activities following the death of Gabrielle Petito.