One Florida sheriff said he would have detained Brian Laundrie right after he returned home to Florida in Gabby Petito’s van without her.
Laundrie is a person of interest in the death of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito. The couple traveled across the country, stopping in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, among other states. But only Laundrie returned home to North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 without Petito (he returned in Petito’s white van). It wasn’t until Sept. 11 that Petito’s family reported her missing. He invoked his Fifth Amendment right and declined to speak with police.
Since then, Laundrie has disappeared. Police in North Port are still looking for him in an investigation led by the FBI.
“I can tell you at this sheriff’s office, when he showed up with her car and she was no place to be found, we never would have let him out of our custody that day. Other than that, I’m not sure where their investigation is,” Judd said Thursday, according to WFLA.
Judd, however, said he is “not involved in the investigation.” He said he can “only speculate based upon news reports, and as you know, those are incomplete at best, and sometimes they can be fictionalized at worst.”
Judd also commented on the incident in Moab, Utah, when the two were approached by police. Moab Police Chief Bret Edge — who has since taken a leave of absence — told the Deseret News that Moab officers responded to an incident involving the couple weeks before Petito disappeared.
According to reports, Petito and Laundrie had a small argument outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative, a natural food store in Moab. There were accounts that Petito and Laundrie got into a physical altercation, according to The Washington Post.
One report suggested Petito might have slapped Laundrie. But Laundrie “tried to create distance by telling Gabbie to go take a walk to calm down,” so Laundrie “grabbed her face and pushed her back,” per The Washington Post.
Melissa Hulls, the visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park, responded to the possible domestic assault. She told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview that she spoke with the couple after they had been pulled over. Hulls said she spoke with Petito about her relationship with Laundrie, which, she said, had the clues of a “toxic” one.
“I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been,” Hulls told the Deseret News.
“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” she said.
Judd, the Polk County sheriff, said he would have handled that situation differently, too.
“I can tell you that according to Florida law, when she was the victim of domestic violence originally, he would’ve been arrested,” Judd said.