North Port, FL – One day after calling off the search for Brian Laundrie in the vast Carlton Reserve wildlife refuge, the North Port Police Department (NPPD) announced Tuesday they’re heading back out to the 25,000-acre park to look for him again.
Another investigation is underway in Baker, Florida, where a trail camera captured an image of a man who closely resembled Laundrie, the New York Post reported.
Baker is approximately 500 miles away from North Port.
Police in Mobile, Alabama have also chased down over a dozen tips from people who said they possibly saw Laundrie in the local area, but none have resulted in a solid lead, WALA reported.
NPPD Spokesperson Josh Taylor confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that the case is officially a criminal investigation, according to Insider.
“This is an FBI-led criminal investigation and North Port Police are assisting our federal partner in any way we can to bring this investigation to a close,” Taylor said.
Laundrie, 23, allegedly disappeared on Sept. 14 after his family said he went hiking in the swampy, alligator-infested reserve north of North Port.
His parents didn’t report him as missing until Sept. 17, even though the NPPD department named him as a person of interest in the disappearance of his 22-year-old fiancé, Gabby Petito, two days before.
The couple had been touring U.S. national parks in Petito’s converted camper van since early July.
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said she last spoke with her daughter on Aug. 25, when Petito told her she and Laundrie were heading to Grand Teton, Wyoming before making their way to Yellowstone National Park, ABC News reported.
Laundrie returned to Florida in Petito’s converted camper van without her on Sept. 1.
Petito’s family reported her missing on Sept. 11, but Laundrie refused to speak with them or law enforcement about where he last saw her.
Petito’s suspected remains were discovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sunday.
An autopsy was being conducted on Tuesday.
We have found what appears to be a memorial in the area where law enforcement searched for and eventually found the remains of who law enforcement believes to be #GabbyPetito @fox13 This is in the area of Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area pic.twitter.com/QLKgNJNFyn
— Sydney Glenn (@SydneyGlennTV) September 21, 2021
The NPPD said in a press release Tuesday morning that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies were returning to the Carlton Reserve to search the Venice side of the refuge, as well as adjoining lands.
Police did not disclose why they honed in on that area.
“A weekend ground search and aerial search Monday of the 25,000-acre preserve has yet to yield any answers, but we must press on,” the NPPD said.
“Please be aware, the Carlton Reserve is a vast and unforgiving location at times. It is currently [waist] deep in water in many areas. This is dangerous work for the search crews as they are wading through gator and snake infested swamps and flooded hiking and biking trails,” the department added.
Meanwhile, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) in northern Florida confirmed they are “actively” investigating a possible sighting of Laundrie in their jurisdiction, too, the New York Post reported.
A man closely resembling Laundrie was captured by a trail camera belonging to Sam Bass, according to the paper.
The image, which was captured at about 6:17 a.m. on Monday, showed the man carrying a backpack as he trekked through the wilderness.
“I’m not saying this is the guy but whoever was on my trail camera this morning in Baker, Florida strongly fits the description of Brian Laundrie,” Bass said, according to the New York Post. “Authorities have been contacted but people in the North West Florida area be on the lookout.”
OCSO Spokesperson Michele Nicholson told the paper the agency has seen the footage and “are actively checking it out.”
“At this point, there is no confirmation,” Nicholson noted.
The OCSO posted a Facebook update Tuesday afternoon saying they searched the area and did not find Laundrie.
“The OCSO is wrapping up an extensive search that took place in this area to include nearby farmlands,” the post read. “No one – and nothing – of note was located.”
The sheriff’s office noted Laundrie “has no known ties to our area.”
Federal and local law enforcement officers swarmed Laundrie’s parents’ home on Monday morning, just one day after Petito’s suspected remains were recovered in Wyoming.
Shortly before their arrival, police cordoned off the area around the home and told people in the vicinity that it was a “crime scene,” according to FOX News.
“The FBI is executing a court-authorized search warrant at the Laundrie residence in North Port, FL relevant to the Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito investigation,” the FBI said in a statement. “No further details can be provided since this is an active and ongoing investigation.”
Agents were seen photographing a shed in the backyard of the property at one point, KGET reported.
The Ford Mustang convertible that Laundrie allegedly used to drive himself to the Carlton Reserve was sitting in his parents’ driveway when police arrived for the search, ABC News reported.
Investigators later towed the vehicle away.
The family’s attorney, Steven Bertolino, claimed the family went out to look for Laundrie on Sept. 15 and found his vehicle with a note from NPPD that it needed to be removed from that location.
They decided to leave the car there overnight “so he [Laundrie] could drive back,” Bertolino told ABC News.
But when Laundrie didn’t return home by the evening of Sept. 16, they went and picked the vehicle up and brought it back to their home, the attorney alleged.
They still waited until the following day to report Laundrie as missing.
Bertolino said during the search that he would be holding a press conference on his clients’ behalf on Tuesday, but he ended up backing out of that plan, NBC News reported.
“As per my conversation with the FBI this evening, there will be no press conference tomorrow,” Bertolino told the news outlet on Monday.
Details regarding the last text messages Schmidt received from her daughter’s phone were recently revealed in court documents, further explaining why Schmidt was concerned they could have been sent by someone other than Petito.
Schmidt received an “odd text” from her daughter’s phone on Aug. 27, referencing Petito’s grandfather, NBC News reported.
“Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls,” the message read, according to the affidavit.
Schmidt told investigators Petito never referred to her grandfather by his first name, NBC News reported.
“The mother was concerned that something was wrong with her daughter,” investigators noted in the affidavit. “This was the last communication anyone had with the subject. Her cellphone was no longer operational, and she stopped posting anything on social media about their trip. Per her family, this was not normal behavior for the subject, and they became more worried about her.”
Schmidt said she was in frequent contact with Petito during the trip, but that there seemed to be “more and more tension between her and Laundrie” as the weeks wore on, KDVR reported.
Court documents further revealed police seized an external hard drive from Petito’s van last week.
Investigators also made reference to concerns regarding Petito’s mental health, NBC News reported.
More information about the 911 call that prompted Moab police to make contact with Petito and Laundrie in Utah approximately two weeks before Petito’s disappearance was uncovered by FOX News on Monday.
According to an MPD report, a concerned witness called 911 at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 12 to report a “possible domestic violence” incident near Moonflower Community Cooperative, FOX News previously reported.
The witness said he saw a man and a woman arguing in the street about a phone.
According to a 911 recording reviewed by the news outlet, the caller reported having witnessed the alleged assault, FOX News reported.
“The gentleman was slapping the girl,” the caller said in the recording.
“He was slapping her?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes, and then we stopped,” the caller said. “They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off.”
Moab police pulled the couple over and spoke with them about the incident.
Petito, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was “crying uncontrollably” when they first made contact with her, the officer noted in the report.
The officers spoke with Petito and Laundrie separately before determining that neither of them had any significant injuries, FOX News reported.
“The driver of the van, a male, had some sort of argument with the female, Gabbie,” one of the officers who responded to the scene noted in his report, according to FOX News.
“The male tried to create distance by telling Gabbie to go take a walk to calm down, she didn’t want to be separated from the male, and began slapping him,” the officer wrote. “He grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van, he tried to lock her out and succeeded except for his driver’s door, she opened that and forced her way over him and into the vehicle before it drove off.”
“I have really bad OCD,” Petito said in the bodycam video. “I was apologizing to him saying ‘I’m sorry I’m so mean.’”
“We’ve been fighting all morning,” she said. “He wouldn’t let me in the car before… he told me I needed to calm down.”
One of the officers noted in his report that the argument could be “more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault,” according to the news outlet.
“Both the male and the female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” the report read.
The couple ended up staying in separate locations for the night to cool down, the officers noted.