FLORIDA - Gabby Petito, the missing Florida woman whose case captivated the nation, has apparently been found dead near Grand Teton National Park, the FBI announced Sunday. There’s still no sign of her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who returned to Florida without her.
FBI officials said that a cause of death has not yet been found, but that the human remains were "consistent with the description of Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito."
The body was found by law enforcement agents who had spent the past two days searching campgrounds., and while full forensic identification has not been completed, officials say that they have notified Petito's family of the discovery.
"Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100% that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified," FBI Supervisory Special Agent Charles Jones said. "This is an incredibly difficult time for (Petito’s) family and friends."
The investigation into Petito's disappearance is ongoing. Anyone who may have had contact with Gabby or her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, or who may have seen their vehicle is asked to share any new information at tips.fbi.gov or at 1-800-Call-FBI or by directly calling the Denver Field Office at 303-629-7171.
The Laundrie family's lawyer, meanwhile, issued a statement calling the news "heartbreaking."
"The Laundrie family prays for Gabby and her family," Steven Bertolino said.
Authorities had spent Sunday searching for both Petito and Laundrie.
The pair left in July on a cross-country trek in a converted van to visit national parks in the U.S. West. Police said Laundrie was alone when he drove the van back to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1.
Laundrie has been identified as a person of interest in the case. He was last seen Tuesday by family members in Florida.
More than 50 law enforcement officers on Sunday started a second day of searching for Laundrie at the more than 24,000-acre (9,712-hectare) Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida, a wildlife area with more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) of trails, as well as campgrounds.
An attorney for the Petito family says Brian is not missing but rather on the run, adding that the Laundrie family’s request to have the North Port police look for their son but not for Gabby is "reprehensible and hypocritical."
Petito’s family had been pleading for the Laundrie family to tell them where their son last saw her. Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts who met while growing up on Long Island, New York. His parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) 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, but 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 Saturday that agents had been conducting ground surveys at Grand Teton National Park, with help from the National Park Service and local law enforcement agencies, seeking clues to Petito’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, a crowd gathered in North Port last night, hoping and praying for Gabby’s safe return. The vigil only lasted about 15 minutes, but those who attended say it was an important way for them to show support for Gabby’s family.
People held signs that said, "North Port loves Gabby." Someone sang amazing grace while others spoke to the crowd.
"We do need to find her, don't we? Gabby needs to be found, and so what I want to do is I want to pray."
"There's not really much we can do for them outside of giving them prayer and giving them our support as a community because if you live here in North Port you know this is a small city."
Investigators are asking the public for help in locating both Petito and Laundrie. They say Laundrie is described as a white male, 5-foot-8 and weighing 160 pounds. He has brown eyes, very short brown hair, trimmed facial hair, and was last seen wearing a hiking bag with a waist strap.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-Call-FBI.
With the Associated Press.