Washington – American authorities have launched a massive search for a 22-year-old woman who mysteriously vanished during a road trip with her boyfriend, now declared a “person of interest” in a case gripping the nation.
Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito quit her job and packed her life into a camper van for the cross-country adventure with boyfriend Brian Laundrie, 23, documenting their journey in a stream of idyllic-seeming Instagram posts.
But, more two weeks ago, Laundrie returned to his home in North Port, Florida alone in Petito’s van. Ten days later, her family filed a missing person report.
Laundrie has declined to cooperate with police.
“We share the frustration with the world right now,” North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told reporters on Thursday.
“Two people went on a trip, one person returned and that person that returned isn’t providing us any information.”
The couple embarked on their journey across the US in July, leaving from New York, and posting photos of magnificent views and themselves smiling happily next to their van.
However, in August police in Utah responded to a domestic violence report involving Petito and Laundrie.
Police bodycam footage published by US media showed a distraught Petito saying she had an altercation with Laundrie.
Speaking to a police officer after their van was pulled over, Petito was seen crying and saying she struggles with mental health problems.
Petito said she slapped Laundrie after an argument, but added that she meant no harm.
“We’ve just been fighting this morning, some personal issues,” she said.
“He wouldn’t let me in the car before… he told me I needed to calm down.”
Laundrie told police that Petito tried to get the van keys from him and he pushed her before she hit him with her phone.
The police officer decided no charges would be brought but ordered the couple to spend a night apart to calm down.
Petito last communicated with her parents in late August when the couple were in the area of the Grand Teton national park in Wyoming, the family said.
Her family said in a statement that they were “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,” the statement said.
Petito’s mother and stepfather “implore Brian to come forward and at least tell us if we are looking in the right area.” – AFP