US police search wildlife area for boyfriend after woman (22) goes missing on cross-country trip

More than 50 law enforcement officers yesterday spent a second day searching a vast wildlife area near Florida’s Gulf Coast for a 23-year-old man after his girlfriend went missing while on a cross-country trek.

The search for Brian Laundrie resumed at the more than 24,000-acre Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida, a wildlife area with more than 160km of trails, as well as campgrounds.

More than 50 police officers, FBI agents and members of other law enforcement agencies searched the area.

Authorities used drones, scent-sniffing dogs and all-terrain vehicles to search the reserve. Investigators took some of his clothing from his parents’ home to provide a scent for the search dogs.

Investigators were hopeful that Laundrie was somewhere in the wildlife reserve.

Depending on his skills, he could survive out in the reserve for some time, said police spokesperson Josh Taylor at a midday news conference yesterday.

Mr Laundrie and Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito (22) left in July on a cross-country trek in a converted van to visit national parks in the US West.

Police said Mr Laundrie was alone when he drove the van back to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida, on September 1. Ms Petito’s family filed a missing persons report on September 11 with police in Suffolk County, New York. Mr Laundrie has been identified as a person of interest in the case. “It is important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime,” police said in a statement. It added that the investigation is now a “multiple missing person” case.

Mr Laundrie’s family told investigators that the last time they saw him was on Tuesday when they believe he went to the wildlife reserve in the Sarasota area.

Ms Petito’s family had been pleading for the Laundrie family to tell them where their son last saw her.

Ms Petito and Mr Laundrie were childhood sweethearts. They met while they were growing up on Long Island, New York. His parents later moved to North Port, about 55km south of Sarasota.

The couple’s trek in the Ford Transit van began in July from Long Island. They intended to reach Oregon by the end of October, according to their social media accounts.

Petito vanished after her last known contact with family in late August from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, authorities said.

The FBI in Denver said on Saturday that agents have begun conducting ground surveys at Grand Teton National Park, seeking clues to Ms Petito’s disappearance.

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