Gabby Petito's boyfriend charged with using her bank card; arrest warrant issued

Gabby Petito (right) and Brian Laundrie left New York in early July heading west on what they called a "van life" trip. PHOTO: BIZARRE_DESIGN_/INSTAGRAM

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Gabby Petito's boyfriend, whom police have sought for six days in connection with the 22-year-old travel blogger's death during their cross-country road trip, was charged on Thursday (Sept 22) with using her bank debit card.

A search warrant was issued for Brian Laundrie, 23, after a grand jury in US District Court in Wyoming indicted him on a single count of unlawfully using the bank debit card. He was not charged in her death.

"While this warrant allows law enforcement to arrest Mr Laundrie, the FBI and our partners across the country continue to investigate the facts and circumstances of Ms. Petito's homicide," FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said in a written statement.

"We urge individuals with knowledge of Mr Laundrie's involvement in this matter or his current whereabouts to contact the FBI," Schneider said.

The indictment accuses Laundrie of spending US$1,000 (S$1348.50) or more on the card between Aug 30 and Sept 1. Petito was last seen alive on Aug 24. Investigators appear to believe she was killed sometime from Aug 27-30.

The case has gripped Americans since Petito was reported missing by her mother, Nicole Schmidt, on Sept 11. Ten days earlier Laundrie returned to North Port, Florida, without her from the months-long road trip.

Petito's body was discovered on Sunday near the remote Spread Creek Dispersed Campground in Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming. Coroner's investigators determined her death to be a homicide but have not revealed the manner in which she was killed.

Police and FBI investigators using divers, tracking dogs and helicopters have been searching for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve wilderness area near North Port since Friday, when his parents told them that he had gone there to hike three days earlier.

Searching the swamp

Search teams ended a sixth day of searching the swampy, alligator-infested wilderness as darkness fell on Thursday, saying they would resume the effort on Friday.

The FBI on Thursday asked for information from members of the public who may have had contact with Laundrie or Petito at the Spread Creek Dispersed Campground between Aug 27-30.

Petito's remains were found less than 300m from where, on the evening of Aug 27, another pair of travel bloggers caught video images of the couple's 2012 white Ford Transit van parked along a dirt road.

The last confirmed sighting of Petito, who was documenting the trip on social media, came on Aug 24 as she left a Salt Lake City hotel. She posted her final photo to Instagram the following day.

Petito's mother spoke to her by phone for the last time on Aug 25. The family believes the couple was headed to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming at the time.

Schmidt received text messages from Petito's phone on Aug 27 and Aug 30 that she found suspicious.

In one of the messages Petito referred to her grandfather by his first name, which Schmidt says was out of character for the young woman. The second message said only "No service in Yosemite", referring to the national park in California that she and Laundrie are not believed to have visited during their trip.

Petito and Laundrie, who met at a Long Island, New York, high school, left that state in early July heading west on what they called a "van life" trip. They posted photos to social media as they traveled through Kansas, Colorado and Utah.

Embed Instagram

On Aug 12, a 911 caller reported that Laundrie was slapping and hitting Petito in front of the Moonflower Community Cooperative in Moab, Utah.

Moab police stopped the van on a highway near Arches National Park. Body camera footage showed Petito crying as she described an argument that escalated into her slapping Laundrie as he drove. The officers did not detain the couple but told them to spend the night apart.

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