NewsLocal News

Actions

Gabby Petito case: Dog the Bounty Hunter says Brian Laundrie hid out in Fort De Soto Park

"No confirmed sighting" of Laundrie in Pinellas, officials say
Map courtesy of Google / Photo: Instagram
Posted at 1:54 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 13:54:44-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman is investigating a tip that alleges Brian Laundrie, the fugitive former boyfriend of Gabby Petito, went into a Florida campground with both his parents in early September — but only his parents were seen leaving.

Chapman announced Saturday he was entering the search for Laundrie. He told Fox News that he received a tip on Monday that Laundrie’s parents spent the night in Fort De Soto Park with their son twice in early September from Sept. 1-3 and Sept. 6-8.

"They were registered, went through the gate. They’re on camera. They were here," he told Fox News exclusively on Monday evening. "We think at least if he’s not here right now, we are sure he was caught on camera as he went in the gate — that he was here for sure. Not over in the swamp."

A Pinellas County sheriff spokesperson released this statement when ABC inquired about Chapman's claims.

"No we are not heading to Ft. De Soto and there has been no confirmed sighting of Brian in Pinellas County.

We will refer you back to North Port PD for any further questions."

He later added: "Allegedly, what we’re hearing, is two people left on the 8th. Three people came in on the 6th, and two people left on the 8th. I think he’s been here for sure."

Earlier on Monday, attorney Steven Bertolino, who represents Brian's parents, Chris and Roberta, said his clients "do not know where Brian is."

"They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him," Bertolino wrote. "The speculation by the public and some in the press that the parents assisted Brian in leaving the family home or in avoiding arrest on a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is just wrong."

A Fox News reporter overheard a park worker say investigators had checked surveillance video on the grounds.

Conditions within the park are "much easier" than some others, namely the T. Mabry Carlton Reserve, where local police and sheriff’s deputies have spent days combing through the dense, swampy terrain, Chapman told Fox News.

Fort De Soto Park is located in Pinellas County, about 75 miles away from the Laundries’ home in North Port. It spans more than 1,130 acres and consists of five keys.

The tip gives renewed hope that authorities might soon reach a conclusion to what has become a costly weeks-long search for Laundrie and has gained the nation's attention.

Laundrie and Petito embarked on a cross-country journey starting in mid-June in a converted white Ford Transit van with the plan to visit national parks along the way. They had begun dating years earlier after meeting at their high school in New York and moved to North Port, Florida, to live with Laundrie’s parents.

On Sept. 1, months after they began their trip, Laundrie returned to the North Port home in the couple's van, but without Petito, officials said. The young woman was not reported missing until 10 days later, on Sept. 11, when her mother filed a police report in Suffolk County, N.Y. Police seized the van from the Laundries' home on Sept. 11.

Petito-and-Laundrie.jpeg
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie

Laundrie was subsequently named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance, and on Thursday, the FBI issued a federal arrest warrant against him for bank card fraud. Authorities alleged he used someone’s Capital One Bank card and the personal identification number during the time Petito was missing. Neither investigators nor a spokesperson for Petito’s family have said whether the card belonged to Petito.

Fox News recently obtained the missing persons’ report for Petito, in which her mother, Nichole Schmidt, stated that her daughter was last seen at 7 a.m. on Aug. 30 at Grand Teton National Park. Schmidt wrote in the report that her Long Island home was a "probable destination."

After Petito’s missing persons’ report was filed on Sept. 11, Laundrie would not cooperate with the police investigation, officials said. The Laundries’ attorney released a statement on Sept. 14, in which he announced he had advised his clients to remain "in the background." The family revealed three days later that they had not seen him since Sept. 14.

Charlene Guthrie, who lives directly across the street from the Laundrie family, told Fox News she saw Brian Laundrie mowing the lawn, riding his bike with his mother and appearing to go camping with his parents in the days after he arrived alone. Petito had previously been living with the family at their North Port, Florida, home.

Brian Laundrie also subsequently went missing, his parents claimed through their attorney.

Petito’s body was discovered near Grand Teton National Park on Sunday, Sept. 19. A Teton County coroner ruled the death a homicide but has not yet announced the cause of death.

WTXL

Friends, family and the public paid their respects during a Sunday ceremony on Long Island.

Speaking during the service, Petito's father, Joseph Petito, called his daughter "the most amazing person I've ever met."

"I want you to take a look at these pictures, and I want you to be inspired by Gabby," he said at the service. "If there’s a trip you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you have the time. If there is a relationship you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now."

Chapman has his own anonymous tip line at 833-TELL-DOG for people who are hesitant to call authorities directly; however, anyone with information on Laundrie's whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.

This story was originally published by Jack Helean at ABC 27s sister-station KSTU in Utah