Go here for the latest on Gabrielle Petito’s disappearance.
The family of a missing Florida woman pleaded with the parents of her fiancé to tell them where she is on Thursday, as the police expressed “frustration” in their efforts to speak with the man, who has been declared “a person of interest” in her disappearance.
For five days, F.B.I. agents, National Park rangers and the police in at least two states have been searching for Gabrielle Petito, 22, who was reported missing after she did not come home from a cross-country trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
She left with Mr. Laundrie, 23, in July in a white Ford van outfitted for a cross-country adventure and was reported missing by her parents on Sept. 11, according to the police.
Ten days earlier, Mr. Laundrie returned to his home in North Port, Fla., near Fort Myers. He has not been arrested or declared a suspect in the case. Through a lawyer, he has declined to speak with investigators, the police said.
Speaking to reporters in Florida on Thursday, Ms. Petito’s father, Joseph Petito, said he remained determined to find her alive. “What I need from everybody here is help,” he said.
He called on Mr. Laundrie’s parents, the couple’s friends and other family members to talk to the police and the F.B.I., which has set up a tip line.
“Whatever you can do to make sure my daughter comes home, I’m asking for that help,” Mr. Petito said. “There is nothing else that matters to me now.”
“We ask you to put yourselves in our shoes,” they said in the letter, which was read by their lawyer, Richard Stafford. “We haven’t been able to sleep or eat. And our lives are falling apart.”
Mr. Laundrie’s sister, Cassie Laundrie, became the first member of his family to speak publicly about the case on Thursday.
“Obviously, me and my family want Gabby to be found safe,” Ms. Laundrie told ABC News. “She’s like a sister and my children love her, and all I want is for her to come home safe and found, and this to be just a big misunderstanding.”
The case has drawn widespread attention as details of the couple’s trip emerged — and for their Instagram photos depicting a seemingly carefree, nomadic “Van Life” — leading reporters to gather outside Mr. Laundrie’s house and many in the public to scour the couple’s social media posts.
Ms. Petito and Mr. Laundrie left New York on July 2 for what was supposed to be a four-month cross-country trip visiting national parks, said Ms. Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt.
Mr. Laundrie posted on Instagram that they were “downsizing our life into this itty bitty van.” Ms. Petito posted that converting a Ford Transit into a camper was “an adventure in itself.” The van, decorated with plants, small pieces of art and photos, was outfitted with a bed, tiny bookcases and a small wooden counter to prepare food.
But something apparently went wrong after a stop in Utah, her family said.
On Aug. 12, the police in Moab, Utah, responded to a report of a “domestic problem” after Mr. Laundrie had “some sort of argument” with Ms. Petito and told her to take a walk and calm down, according to a police report.
Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito both told the police that they were in love and engaged to be married and “desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.”
Mr. Laundrie told one officer that “issues between the two had been building over the last few days,” the report said.
Both told the police that the episode should be classified as a “mental/emotional health ‘break,’” rather than as a domestic assault. Ms. Petito cried during the encounter with the police and said she suffered from anxiety, according to body camera footage of the incident. In the police report, Ms. Petito is recorded saying she moved to slap Mr. Laundrie because she feared that he “was going to leave her in Moab without a ride.”
In the report, the police describe Mr. Laundrie as the victim of the incident. They arranged for him to stay in a hotel that night while Ms. Petito kept the van. No charges were filed, the report states.
On Sept. 1, Mr. Laundrie returned to his house in North Port in the white Ford van that the couple had used for the trip and that had been registered to Ms. Petito.
The police later described him as a person of interest because he was the last person known to have been with Ms. Petito before she went missing, said Josh Taylor, a spokesman for the department, which is working with the F.B.I. to find Ms. Petito.
A person of interest is a vague term often used by law enforcement agencies to identify a person they believe may have been involved in a crime but who has not been arrested.
The van was seized by the police and has been processed for evidence, Mr. Taylor said.
On Wednesday, Steven Bertolino, a lawyer for Mr. Laundrie in East Islip, N.Y., said in a statement that he had advised Mr. Laundrie not to speak with the authorities because, in his experience, an intimate partner is often the first person law enforcement “focuses their attention on in cases like this.”
“The warning that ‘any statement made will be used against you’ is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance,” Mr. Bertolino said. He described the designation of “person of interest” as a “formality” that would not change his advice to Mr. Laundrie.
Todd Garrison, the police chief in North Port, pleaded on Wednesday with the lawyer on Twitter to arrange a meeting with Mr. Laundrie. On Thursday, he said the police would respect Mr. Laundrie’s right not to speak with them.
“We share the frustration with the world,” he told reporters. “Two people went on a trip. One person returned and that person who returned isn’t providing us any information.”
Ms. Petito’s family on Long Island had not heard from Mr. Laundrie since he returned, her stepfather said.
He said that he and Ms. Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, last saw the couple in July, when they had stayed briefly on Long Island to attend the high school graduation of Ms. Petito’s brother.
The couple documented their cross-country trip in photos on Instagram and in an eight-minute video that they posted on YouTube on Aug. 19. The video, titled “Van Life,” showed them kissing, scaling rocks and laughing over how the Utah sun had melted the chocolate in Mr. Laundrie’s granola.
“I love the van,” Ms. Petito said, smiling at Mr. Laundrie.
On Instagram, she kept a personal blog of their journeys.
In many of the posts published before her disappearance, she was photographed smiling and posing against backdrops of nature.
In a series of photographs posted on Aug. 12, the day of the police encounter, Ms. Petito sat on a pumpkin-colored rock, shielding her face from the sun, as a tiny figure under the span of an arch in Arches National Park in Utah.
Early in the trip, the couple visited Zion National Park, where Mr. Laundrie complained about the “unfortunate infestation of human beings.”
“I think our culture, our society has put itself above all living creatures, creating needs purely to support destructive economic practices,” he wrote on Aug. 13, when the couple was in Moab.
He thanked Ms. Petito for “putting up with me through Utah, a topographic playground.”
Mr. Schmidt said the last time that he and Ms. Schmidt talked to Ms. Petito was around Aug. 23, when she said she and Mr. Laundrie were leaving Utah and driving to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The last post on her Instagram account is dated two days later.
“From everything we saw in the photos and the videos and when we spoke to her, they were having the time of their lives,” said Mr. Schmidt, who went to Wyoming on Tuesday night to meet the authorities searching for Ms. Petito.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” Mr. Schmidt said.
Ms. Petito, the oldest of six siblings, had been working as a pharmacy technician to save money for the trip. She met Mr. Laundrie at Bayport-Blue Point High School on Long Island, Mr. Schmidt said. They began dating after graduation and moved two years ago to Florida, he said.
In their posts from 2020, the couple expressed excitement about their future.
On July 2, she posted a photograph of their first date, their heads together, wielding chopsticks. “Here’s a picture from our first date because I have so much love for you. Brian asked me to marry him and I said yes!”
The following day, he posted a photo of them smiling at each other. “My biggest fear is that one day I’ll wake up and it will have all been a dream,” he wrote. “Because that is what every second has felt like since the moment we found each other.”
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