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Father pleads for help finding daughter; Moab police video shows emotional encounter with couple

Gabby Petito, 22, left Blue Point, New York, on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend of two years on July 2; she was reported missing on Sept 11. On Thursday, her father pleaded with the public and her boyfriend to help find her. (Suffolk County Police Department)



Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The father of a missing 22-year-old woman last seen traveling through Utah and Wyoming on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend is joining police in pleading for Brian Laundrie, his friends and family, and the public to provide any information that could lead them to her.

"Whatever you can do to make sure my daughter comes home, I'm asking for that help," Gabby Petito's father, Joe Petito, said at a Thursday news conference in North Port, Florida. "There's nothing else that matters to me now."

The search for Gabby Petito continues at Grand Teton National Park as police in the Florida city — where the young couple lived with Laundrie's family before heading west in a van — work with federal authorities to find her. They are combing through tips and evidence found in the vehicle after Laundrie returned home in the vehicle two weeks ago. Her family reported her missing 10 days later.

Laundrie has been named a "person of interest" in her disappearance, a term police use for those suspected of involvement in a crime but who haven't been arrested or formally accused. Laundrie continues to decline interviews with investigators, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said. Laundrie's attorney, however, arranged to get investigators items they had been looking for, Garrison said without elaborating.

"Brian is exercising his constitutional rights, and I have to respect that," Garrison said. "But as of right now the focus is finding Gabby."

Laundrie's attorney Steven Bertolino said his client "will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel."

"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 you' is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito's disappearance," Bertolino said in a statement.

Laundrie's designation as a person of interest is a "formality," the lawyer said.

On Thursday, investigators were still trying to determine where to focus search efforts.

The young couple chronicled their trip on Instagram, and Garrison said social media companies have been helpful in the investigation. He didn't provide any information on what detectives may have learned from digital traces.

In Utah, Moab police responded to a "domestic problem" involving Petito and Laundrie on Aug. 12, according to a police report, but no charges were filed after the couple separately told police they didn't want that to happen. Detectives are reviewing the incident, Garrison said, but it wasn't clear if there was any link between the events of that day and her disappearance.

Body camera footage released Thursday show both Laundrie, who had been driving, and Petito somewhat agitated as police question them after pulling them over for "some obscure driving" and possible intoxication, according to the officer who stopped them. Petito was crying and mentioned she had been arguing with Laundrie, citing "personal issues," including that she had apologized for being "so mean" to Laundrie.

Petito, who told police she quit her job as a nutritionist to travel across the country and start a blog, also mentioned that Laundrie didn't "really believe I can do any of it ... and that really stresses me out."

Both of them showed marks resulting from physical fighting earlier that day outside a grocery store in Moab. After speaking with the couple and someone who saw them struggle near the store, officers referred to Petito as the "primary aggressor." They determined she swatted at Laundrie as he shoved her back and told her to calm down, according to the police report. He tried to lock her out of the van, but she forced her way over him through the driver's side, the report states.

"Brian said Gabrielle, thinking he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride, went to slap him. As Gabrielle started to swing, Brian pushed her away to avoid the slap," the report continues, noting she was off balance but caught his face with some fingers, causing minor visible scratches.

Their time together on the road "created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments," officers wrote in a police report. Laundrie described trying to walk away from her so they could calm down, but described Petito as going into "a manic state."

"She's my fiance and I love her," Laundrie can be heard telling officers in the body camera video. He was emotional at the prospect of Petito being charged and relieved when officers decided not to charge her.

Petito said she had no intention to harm Laundrie and her reaction was not malicious, which is what led police not to file charges. Officers did, however, separate them for the night, even putting Laundrie up in a hotel.

"Yes, they had a disturbance. Yes, it was captured on body camera, their interaction with law enforcement. But beyond that, you know, I don't know what it has to do with the disappearance."

Garrison said the department has provided information to the Grand County Sheriff's Office as it investigates another homicide case. He didn't provide specifics, but deputies in Grand County are searching for a suspect the deaths of a newlywed couple whose bodies were found in the La Sal mountains on Aug. 18.

"They don't have any suspect information right now ... they told us they're looking at everything at this point," he said.

Petito's family members said they last spoke to her during the last week of August. Before the last time her family heard from her, Petito is believed to have been seen in Grand Teton National Park, according to police.

Petito's case remains a missing person case, not a criminal investigation, Garrison told reporters.

"We share the frustration with the world right now," he said. "So, you know, two people went on a trip. One person returned. And that person that returned isn't providing us any information."

Laundrie's family has said through attorneys that this is "an extremely difficult time" for both families and they hope Gabby Petito is reunited with hers, but have said Brian Laundrie will "continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel."

"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," a Wednesday statement from attorney Steven Bertolino said. "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 you" is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito's disappearance."

The FBI, which is aiding in the investigation, established a national hotline to receive tips at 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).

This story will be updated.

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