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Gabby Petito's fiancé named as person of interest in disappearance, police say

The family of Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito reported her missing over the weekend. She fell out of contact with them in late August during a road trip to Wyoming.
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The fiancé of the New York woman who went missing while on a cross-country road trip was identified as a person of interest in the case, authorities said Wednesday.

North Port, Florida, police confirmed Brian Laundrie's status as a person of interest as authorities continue their search for Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito, who was reported missing by her family over the weekend. The 22-year-old was last known to be in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming in late August when she stopped communicating with her family, police said.

Petito and Laundrie had been documenting their travels, in a white 2012 Ford Transit van, on YouTube under the monikers Nomadic Statik and Van Life. That Ford van, with Florida plates, and Laundrie eventually got back to the city of North Port, south of Tampa, but without the woman, police said.

"Gabrielle's vehicle was recovered here in North Port at her home on September 11," the police department said in a statement. "That vehicle was fully processed for evidence along with FBI agents Tuesday evening."

According to police, Laundrie has "not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators" and has "not provided any helpful details."

"We know Brian returned here to North Port on September 1st — ten days before her family reported her missing on September 11th. We have no information that a crime occurred here in North Port," police said.

In a statement to NBC News on Wednesday, Richard Stafford, the Petito's family attorney, said: "Everyday the search for Gabby continues the Schmidt and Petito family becomes more desperate. They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter’s disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home."

Laundrie's family attorney, Steven P. Bertolino, said in a statement Wednesday that Laundrie will not speak on the matter because "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."

"I have been informed that the North Port, Florida police have named Brian Laundrie as a 'person of interest' in this matter," Bertolino said. "This formality has not really changed the circumstances of Mr. Laundrie being the focus and attention of law enforcement and Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel.”

The news comes a day after authorities in Utah said they investigated an "incident" involving the couple on Aug. 12 — about two weeks before Petito was last seen.

Moab City Police Department Chief Bret Edge told NBC News in a statement that "neither Brian or Gabrielle were the reporting party."

"Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges," he said.

On Tuesday, the attorney for Petito's family said Laundrie wouldn't help find her.

"The Schmidt and Petito family are going through the worst moments of their lives. Their beautiful twenty-two year old daughter is missing and the one person that can help find Gabby refuses to help," Stafford said. "Brian Laundrie was traveling with Gabby in the Grand Teton – Yellowstone area. They were traveling together in Gabby’s 2012 Ford Transit van. That is where we believe Gabby was last seen."

The fiancé's family released a statement earlier Tuesday saying this is "understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Peitto family and the Laundrie family."

"It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming," the family said in a statement released by their lawyer, Steven P. Bertolino. "On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is re-united with her family."

They added: "On advice of counsel the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment."

Petito's family attorney responded directly to the statement Tuesday evening.

"The Schmidt and Petito family beg the Laundrie family to not 'remain in the background' but to help find who Brian referred to as the love of his life," Stafford said. "How does Brian stay in the background when he is the one person that knows where Gabby is located?"

The FBI Tampa Field Office is also actively assisting Suffolk County police in New York with the investigation, North Port police said.

Police know Laundrie is at the family's North Port home, but they hadn't made contact with him by Wednesday afternoon, officials said. Laundrie's family has asked police to talk to their attorney if they have any questions.

"Brian is refusing to tell Gabby’s family where he last saw her," Stafford said. "Brian is also refusing to explain why he left Gabby all alone and drove her van to Florida. These are critical questions that require immediate answers."

North Port police said they were also investigating why Gabrielle's Instagram page was taken down.

"We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks," police Chief Todd Garrison said in a statement.

"The lack of information from Brian is hindering this investigation. The answers will eventually come out. We will help find Gabby and we will help find anyone who may be involved in her disappearance," he said.