FBI agents searching in Grand Teton national park in Wyoming on Sunday discovered “human remains consistent with the description” of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old woman who went missing during a cross-country “van life” trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie.
Petito’s last known contact with family members was from the Wyoming park.
In a brief public statement on Sunday evening, Charles Jones, an FBI agent based in Denver, announced the discovery and said: “I would like to extend sincere sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family.
“As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We ask that you all respect the privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter.”
In Florida, more than 50 law enforcement officers searched a vast wildlife reserve for Laundrie, 23, whom law enforcement had described as a person of interest in her disappearance.
Laundrie and Petito, 22, left the east coast in July for a cross-country trek in a converted van. Laundrie was alone when he drove the van back to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida, on 1 September. Petito’s family filed a missing persons report on 11 September, in Suffolk county, New York.
The case has attracted national attention, in part because the couple recorded and discussed their travels on social media.
Jones said: “FBI personnel in coordination with our partners at the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Teton county sheriff’s office and Jackson police department conducted investigative activity in the vicinity of the Spread Creek dispersed camping area.
“Earlier today, human remains were discovered, consistent with the description of Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito. Forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100% that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified of this discovery. The cause of death has not been determined at this time.”
The Spread Creek campsite, on the eastern edge of the park, “will remain closed to the public until further notice”, Jones said.
Laundrie had not spoken to law enforcement before his family reported him missing on Friday. On Saturday, more than 50 police officers, FBI agents and members of other agencies searched the 24,000-acre Carlton reserve in the Sarasota area. Drones, dogs and all-terrain vehicles were used.
“His family says they believe he entered the area earlier this week,” North Port police said.
A spokesman said Laundrie could survive in the reserve for some time.
“Certainly we prepare for all different possibilities, but our goal is to locate him and bring him back to North Port,” Josh Taylor said.
Family members said they believed Laundrie went to the reserve with only a backpack, Taylor said. Another mystery is how he got to the reserve. Family members told investigators he took his car, but the vehicle was found at the family home.
Laundrie’s family told officers they had not seen him since Tuesday. Police said that conversation on Friday evening was the first time they’d spoken with the Laundries in detail and came at the family’s request.
Earlier, North Port police said it was “important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime”. An attorney for Brian Laundrie, Steven Bertolino, did not comment.
The couple’s trek in their Fort Transit van began in July from Long Island. They intended to reach Oregon by November.
Video released by police in Moab, Utah, showed that an officer pulled the van over on 12 August after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb. The body cam video showed an emotional Petito inside a police cruiser while officers questioned Laundrie.
Jones, the FBI agent, said: “We continue to seek information from anyone who utilised the Spread Creek dispersed camping area between the dates of 27 August and 30 August, anyone that may have had contact with Gabby or [Brian] or who may have seen their vehicle in that area, please share any new information with the FBI.”
Citing an ongoing investigation, he did not take questions.