Brian Laundrie was under surveillance before he disappeared, police say

A police spokesman said that Florida authorities were surveilling Brian Laundrie as best as they legally could before he disappeared.


The search for Brian Laundrie, whose fiancée Gabby Petito was found dead in Wyoming after the pair embarked on a cross-country road trip over the summer, continues in an inhospitable Florida nature reserve that may soon prove easier to navigate for teams trying to find him, the Laundries' family attorney says.

"It seems the water in the preserve is receding and certain areas are more accessible to search," said Steve Bertolino. "The entire Laundrie family is grateful for the hard work of the dedicated members of law enforcement that have been searching the preserve for Brian over the last few weeks. Hopefully, Brian will be located soon."

Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies have been looking for Laundrie since Sept. 17, when his family told authorities that he left days earlier for the nearby Carlton Reserve.

Laundrie returned to Florida on Sept. 1 without Petito, and after her disappearance was reported he and his family rebuffed initial attempts by law enforcement to speak with them directly.

However, police revealed on Thursday that Laundrie was being monitored.

North Port Police Department spokesman Josh Taylor told CNN that police were surveilling Brian Laundrie as best as they legally could before he disappeared. At the time, Laundrie was not wanted for arrest and Petito was still missing. Her remains were discovered Sept. 19 in Teton County, Wyoming.

Laundrie has not been charged in Petito's death, though he is the subject of a federal arrest warrant for unauthorized use of another person's debit card in the days after she last spoke with her family.

Authorities never spoke with Laundrie before he went missing, CNN has learned. When police were at the family home on Sept. 11, the day Petito was reported missing, Laundrie was not seen and there was no opportunity to speak with him, Taylor told CNN.

Additionally, authorities do not have in their possession the phones Laundrie and Petito had on their trip, Taylor said. Police searched the van used on the trip that Laundrie drove back to Florida but neither phone was there, Taylor said.

Laundrie had purchased a new phone shortly after returning home, attorney Bertolino told CNN last week. A source close to the Laundrie family told CNN's Chris Cuomo that Laundrie left their home without his cell phone and wallet, and Bertolino said the FBI is in possession of the new phone. The FBI declined to comment to CNN, citing its ongoing investigation.

Laundrie's father assisted with search on Thursday

Chris Laundrie, Brian's father, was seen Thursday morning entering the Carlton Reserve, the vast nature reserve near the family home in North Port. Bertolino said he was asked by law enforcement to accompany them with their search.

"Chris was asked to point out any favorite trails or spots that Brian may have used in the preserve," the attorney said. Though the family provided what information they knew earlier, "it is now thought that on-site assistance may be better," he said.

"The preserve has been closed to the public and the Laundries as well but the parents have been cooperating since the search began," Bertolino said.

"There were no discoveries but the effort was helpful to all," he said.

Police on Thursday denied that a campsite had been found in the reserve during earlier search efforts. That confirmation came after a source close to the Laundrie family told CNN they were informed by investigators that police had made a discovery. The source on Thursday insisted that the Laundrie family had been told a campsite had been found.

"Is it possible that they thought that there might be a campsite out there or something they may have seen from the air, but when they got on the ground that's not what it turned out to be. Sure, I think that's a possibility," North Port's Taylor said. "Bottom line is that investigators are telling me that no campsite was found out there."

As the search continues, Chris Laundrie and Brian's mother Roberta believe he is still in the reserve, Bertolino said, adding that the parents see no reason to issue a public call for Laundrie to surrender to authorities.

"In short, the parents believe Brian was and still is in the preserve so there was no reason to issue a plea on media that he does not have access to," the attorney said.

Family hopes Gabby's life will inspire others

Petito's body was discovered in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming less than two weeks after she was reported missing, dampening the hopes of communities nationwide that she would be found alive.

As authorities focused on the Carlton Reserve looking for Laundrie, vigils were held in her honor from Salt Lake City to Wilmington, North Carolina, where a memorial was set up at a restaurant she used to work at, according to WWAY.

The loss of Petito was particularly felt in North Port, as tributes were held in front of the Florida town's city hall, and on Long Island where she grew up.

Her father, Joe Petito, described Gabby at her memorial service in New York as a "happy girl" who loved the outdoors and made others feel welcome.

"I want you to be inspired by Gabby, that's what we're looking for," he said. "If there's a trip that you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you've got the time.

"If there's a relationship that you're in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now," he added.

Petito's stepfather, Jim Schmidt, also gave a eulogy, telling those gathered, "Parents aren't supposed to bury their children. That's not how this is supposed to work."

In an interview on the "Dr. Phil" show this week alongside other members of her family, Joe Petito said he believes Laundrie is alive and hiding.

"Because he's a coward. Flat out. I'd use some other words, but I can't use them on your show," Petito said.