NORTH PORT, Fla. — North Port Police named the boyfriend of a missing 22-year-old as a person of interest on Wednesday. Police describe the case as a "complex and far-reaching" situation.
Gabby Petito, 22, was reported missing by her family on September 11. They said they last heard from her by phone on August 25. Petito was believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
Police said her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, who she was traveling with, is now a person of interest in her disappearance.
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Petito, originally from New York, has been living in North Port with Laundrie and his parents, according to police. Police said Laundrie returned to Florida on September 1 with Petito's white 2012 Ford Transit van that the couple was traveling in.
On Wednesday, ABC Action News obtained a copy of a police report out of Moab, Utah. on August 12, a person named Christopher called the Moab Police Department after witnessing Laundrie and Petito fighting and, "feared the worst."
The report shows police showed up at a place near the "Moonflower Co-op" to interview Christopher about what he saw.
He said he saw Laundrie and Petito fighting over a phone. At one point, he says Laundrie got into the van and that's when he witnessed Petito hit his arm and attempt to climb "through the driver's window as if Brian had locked her out and she was trying to find a way in."
Officers found the couple and pulled them over. The report says Petito was, “crying uncontrollably” and they both told police that Petito suffers from “serious anxiety.” Laundrie told the officer issues had been building between the two after spending the last four to five months traveling together.
He described a similar situation to police about the fight. He says they were fighting over a phone, and he got into the van to put distance between them so they, "could both calm their emotions."
He says at that point Petito went into a "manic state." He told police she thought he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride and went to slap him. Police say Laundrie told them when she "started to swing, Brian pushed her away to avoid the slap. As a result Gabrielle off balance but still caught Brian's face with some fingers causing some minor visible scratches."
They both insisted things were fine and did not want to be separated. Police decided what happened between the two did not “escalate to a level of domestic violence, as much as that of a mental health crisis."
Out of caution, they put Laundrie in a hotel and let Petito take the van. The officer said in the report he told them to "take advantage of this time apart to relax their emotions and regain control of their anxiety."
Police said Laundrie has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators. They added that he has not provided any helpful details.
“I think we are just pleading with him to please speak with us. We need to understand these details," said Josh Taylor, the North Port Police Department's Public Information Officer. "They put out a release yesterday saying they remain in the background, that is not good enough. We need the details.”
Steve Bertolino, an attorney and friend of the Laundrie family, says Brian has told him he has, "nothing to offer."
“At this time, none of the Laundrie family is going to issue a statement except through myself," he said. When asked why, he replied, “Because I’ve advised them that that’s the way it needs to be.”
Police said they have no information at this time that any crime has occurred in North Port.
Police said the van has been recovered and fully processed for evidence. They have not released information on what investigators found.
"We definitely processed that vehicle yesterday with the FBI. Certainly, there was some material that we’ll be going through, I don’t know that we’re at a situation of releasing all those details," said Taylor.
Petito is white, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, and several tattoos, including one on her finger and one on her forearm that reads “let it be.”
A spokesperson for Petito's family released the following statement on Wednesday, urging Laundrie to come forward and provide information.
"Everyday the search for Gabby continues the Schmidt and Petito family becomes more desperate. They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter’s disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home.
Brian claims he wants to sit in the background while we search for Gabby in the wilderness of the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
Brian left Gabby in the wilderness with grizzly bears and wolves while he sits in the comfort of his home. In his home!
Brian, how could you do this to Gabby? You selfishly remain silent while Gabby is all alone in the wilderness.
Brian, your silence is reprehensible! We beg you to do the right thing and help us bring Gabby home.
Brian, whatever happened in Wyoming, happened. The only thing you can control is what you do now. Tell us where Gabby is.
You tarnish your love for her with your silence."
An attorney representing the Laundrie family released the following statement on Wednesday.
"Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito's absence. In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this and the warning that 'any statement made will be used against use' is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito's disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on this matter.
I have been informed that the North Port, Florida police have named Brian Laundrie as a 'person of interest' in this matter. This formality has not really changed the circumstanced of Mr. Laundrie being the focus and attention of law enforcement and Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel."
The FBI has set up a national hotline to receive tips on the case, 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324). Police said so far they've received hundreds of tips that are currently being vetted.
The department asked if anyone has seen the van photographed or has information that might be helpful to contact them.
“As a father, I can imagine the pain and suffering Gabby’s family is going through. We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks. The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out. We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved in her disappearance,” says North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison.
The case involves several different law enforcement agencies with North Port Police as the primary investigating agency in partnership with the FBI.
Police are also investigating reports that Petito's Instagram account has been taken down. At the time of this publication, the page appeared to still be active.