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Police in Florida are now calling a missing New York woman’s boyfriend who returned to his hometown alone midway through a cross-country trip a person of interest in her disappearance.
Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, 22, was reported missing on Saturday by her family in Long Island after they lost contact with her in late August, according to a statement from the Suffolk County Police Department previously obtained by Oxygen.com. She vanished as she and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, were traveling across the country in a converted camper van. Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, last made contact with her daughter on Aug. 25 when she and Laundrie were camping in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.
The North Port Police revealed in a Wednesday statement that Laundrie has been back in his Florida hometown of North Port for a total of 10 days prior to Petito being reported missing. The statement also referred to Laundrie as a person of interest for the first time.
North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor avoided using that phrase in a phone call with Oxygen.com on Tuesday. However, he made it clear that police have been attempting to contact Laundrie.
"The fact he was the last person seen with her makes him someone we would be interested in talking to,” he said.
In Wednesday’s statement, police wrote that Laundrie has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators and has "not provided any helpful details."
Taylor told Oxygen.com on Tuesday that police had spoken to Laundrie’s parents. They had referred authorities to their son’s attorney.
On Tuesday, Petito’s parents released a statement pleading with Laundrie to provide more information about their daughter’s possible whereabouts, NBC News reports.
“The Schmidt and Petito family are going through the worst moments of their lives,” the statement reads. “Their beautiful 22-year-old daughter is missing and the one person who can help find Gabby refuses to help.”
Laundrie released a statement through his attorney on Tuesday that reads, “on behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.”
It goes on to say that “on the advice of counsel, the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment."
On Aug. 19, Petito posted an eight-minute video on YouTube documenting the couple’s journey. The video, entitled “Beginning Our Van Life Journey,” shows the couple laughing, kissing, and doing cartwheels on the beach. But seven days prior, police had responded to an incident involving the couple in Utah.
Moab Police Chief Bret Edge told Oxygen.com in a statement Wednesday that "neither Brian or Gabrielle were the reporting party" and that “officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges."
Police have since recovered the van at the home of Laundrie’s parents, WTVT in Tampa Bay reports. Petito has been described by police as a white female, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall and 110 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, along with several distinctive tattoos including one on her forearm that reads, “Let it be.”
Anyone with information on Petito’s disappearance is urged to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls can remain anonymous.
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