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Before 22-year-old Gabby Petito vanished on a cross-country adventure with boyfriend Brian Laundrie “more and more tension” had been building between the couple, leading to an “odd text” message that triggered her mother’s concern, according to a search warrant.
FBI agents converged on Laundrie’s family home in North Port Monday morning to execute the search warrant after Laundrie was named as a person of the interest in Petito's disappearance.
The FBI announced Sunday that human remains “consistent” with Petito were discovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Her identity is expected to be confirmed during an autopsy scheduled for Tuesday.
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, has said she last spoke to her daughter on Aug. 25 when the couple was in Grand Teton National Park, but new details uncovered in the search warrant reveal that it was an “odd text” Schmidt received just two days later that triggered her concern for her daughter.
“Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls,” the text, which was sent to Schmidt from Petito’s phone on Aug. 27, said, according to the search warrant.
The “Stan” referred to the in the message was Petito’s grandfather but Schmidt told investigators Petito “never calls him ‘Stan.’”
“The mother was concerned that something was wrong with her daughter,” North Port Police Det. Daniel Alix wrote while laying out the probable cause to secure to search warrant.
Investigators said this was the “last communication” that anyone had with Petito and that after the message her “cell phone was no longer operational” and she “stopped posting anything on social media about their trip.”
Schmidt formally reported her daughter missing on Sept. 11, sparking a massive search for the 22-year-old.
Authorities said Laundrie was spotted by a license plate reader returning to North Port in the van — without Petito — at 10:26 a.m. on Sept. 1.
Laundrie, who is now missing himself, refused to speak with investigators about his missing girlfriend’s whereabouts and instead referred them to his attorney.
After recovering the van, detectives said they found a “black Western Digital External Hard Drive” inside the van which they believe might contain “viable digital forensic data.”
In the weeks before Petito disappeared, Alix also noted that conversations between Schmidt and Petito revealed “there appeared to be more and more tension” between the couple.
On Aug. 12, the couple was stopped by the Moab Police after a concerned citizen called 911 to report that a “gentleman was slapping the girl,” Fox News reports.
A later police report, obtained by Oxygen.com, seems to contradict that initial report and said that “no one reported that the male struck the female.”
Police later released body camera footage of the stop which showed Petito, sitting in the passenger seat crying hysterically.
“He really stresses me out,” she told the officers, according to The Deseret News. “This is a rough morning.”
Petito told officers the couple had gotten into a fight that afternoon that escalated when Laundrie tried to lock her out of the van and told her to calm down.
"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 police report said. "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 to him and into the vehicle before it drove off."
The officers concluded the incident was more of a “mental/emotional health ‘break’” rather than a domestic assault and separated the couple for the night, but did not file any formal charges against either party.
Alix made reference to the stop in the search warrant, writing that Laundrie had told officers that “he was concerned about the subject because her anxiety had worsened during their extended trip.”
The search warrant was written for computer hardware, software, digital documents, computer files and data files investigators believe could be helpful in the investigation.
The FBI descended on the house Monday morning, removing Laundrie’s parents from the home as they searched the property. The Tampa FBI later announced that the search had been completed, declining to release any further details about what may have been recovered.
"The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media" will air on Oxygen on Monday, January 24 at 9/8c. It's also available to stream on Peacock now.
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