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Tension hit a new high outside Brian Laundrie’s home in Florida Wednesday night as a square-off between a man protesting his family's actions and his nearby neighbor ended in an arrest, as questions still swirl about his whereabouts and what happened in the death of Gabby Petito.
The neighbor, who has not been named by authorities, was arrested and charged with battery after he allegedly pushed a man by his North Port home; the demonstrator had been standing in front of the family’s home with a megaphone.
“You can sit here all you want with your megaphone. I don’t care, but you come on my property again, I’m going to f---ing beat your a--,” the neighbor could be heard shouting, according to Fox News.
The neighbor then threatened to call the police and attempted to take out his cell phone to prove that the protester — identified by The Independent as Jonathan Riches — had stepped onto his property. After the alleged shove, Riches, who had been filming the altercation, then shouted “You’re going to jail. You assaulted me on camera.”
North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor later confirmed to the news outlet that the neighbor had been arrested later that night and charged with battery in connection with the heated exchange.
Riches has been camped out in front of the Laundrie’s home for days, screaming taunts at the Laundrie family from morning until evening.
“Stop hiding—accept responsibility,” he once yelled to the family.
He’s just one of many protesters, gawkers and media outlets who’ve made their way to the Laundrie family home over the last few weeks as authorities continue to search for Brian Laundrie, who disappeared just days before the body of Petito was discovered in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The couple had been touring the nation’s national parks in a converted camper van for months as part of a cross-country trek before Petito disappeared at the end of August.
Police have said Laundrie returned home to Florida, alone, in the couple’s Ford Transit van on Sept. 1.
Petito was reported missing by her mother on Sept. 11, launching a massive search to find the 22-year-old. As investigators scoured the country looking for Petito, Laundrie and his parents refused to meet with investigators and referred police to their family’s attorney instead.
Then Laundrie mysteriously vanished himself. His parents told police that their son disappeared on Sept. 14 carrying a hiking backpack. He told them he planned to go for a hike in Sarasota County’s 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports. His parents didn’t report him missing until three days later.
A warrant was issued for his arrest on Sept. 22 in connection with his alleged unauthorized use of a debit card.
Fellow protester Andra Griffin — who had also been armed with a bull horn outside the family’s house earlier this week — told local station WFLA she decided to come to the home after closely following the case.
“This kind of hits a chord in my heart and we’re just out here trying to bring answers to the Petito family and bring justice for Gabby,” she said.
Griffin said she is hoping the Laundrie family will choose to cooperate with authorities and let them know where their son has gone.
“I just can’t believe that my parents would allow me to walk out of here,” she told the local station. “They would have took me by the ear and drug me down to the police station had something like this happened to me. I mean, there’s a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do and it seems like this family has done everything wrong.”
In a statement issued earlier this week through their attorney, the Laundrie family has insisted they don’t know the whereabouts of their son.
“They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him,” attorney Steve Bertolino told People. “The speculation by the public and some in the press that the parent assisted Brian in leaving the family home or in avoiding arrest on a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is just wrong.”
North Port Police have had a presence on the street in front of the Laundrie house in recent weeks, but have let the protests continue.
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