NORTH PORT, Fla. - North Port police announced Monday morning that the FBI has officially taken the lead in the search for Brian Laundrie.
Search efforts at the Carlton Preserve for the only person of interest in Gabby Petito's case slowed over the weekend. North Port police had been heading the search at the Carlton reserve, with help from law enforcement agencies from across the state and the FBI.
The reserve is now mainly underwater, making it difficult to find anyone or anything in the 25,000 acres. SkyFOX spotted a few crews in the reserve Monday but the FBI says the search is mainly happening from the sky.
"I don’t think you’re going to see those large-scale types of efforts this week," Josh Taylor, spokesman for the North Port Police Department, told Fox News. "The FBI is now leading the search. I’m told, It will be scaled back and targeted based on intelligence. Hopefully, water will lower in areas hard to currently access."
Over the weekend, it was a much quieter scene at the Carlton Preserve where days of exhaustive ground searches yielded no sign of Brian, who supposedly entered the preserve on September 14. He hasn’t been spotted since.
"We're not wasting our time out here," Commander Joe Fussell with North Port police said last week. "We are doing our due diligence to find Brian in an area that intelligence had led us that he could possibly be."
FBI collects new DNA evidence
Meanwhile, the FBI also made another stop by the Laundrie family’s home on Sunday. The family’s attorney confirmed agents took some of Brian’s personal items from the home in hopes of obtaining a DNA sample. They’ll be able to use that to compare to items they may have found during their search or may find in the future.
"The FBI requested some personal items belonging to Brian Laundrie to assist them with DNA matching and Brian's parents provided the FBI with what they could," attorney Steven Bertolino said.
A University of South Florida professor, who is well versed in these types of cases, says those items won't necessarily be used in the homicide investigation.
"The DNA in this particular case, unless we find a third party’s DNA isn’t going to be as beneficial as it would be unless it was a stranger-on-stranger," explained Peter Massey, program coordinator for the University of South Florida’s Forensics Study and Justice program.
Massey says the FBI could use the DNA for a number of things not related to the homicide of Gabby Petito.
If search crews find remains the DNA could be used to match or rule out Laundrie. It could also be used to tie him to any items found in the investigation.
The focus of the investigation in Sarasota County will remain on finding Brian as investigators out west focus on finding out how Gabby died.
Gabby Petito funeral
Meanwhile in New York, family, friends and complete strangers gathered to say goodbye to 22-year-old Gabby as she was laid to rest. The memorial service took place over two weeks since Gabby was reported missing after she was taking a cross-country trip with her fiancé, Brian. One week later, her body was discovered in Wyoming with the medical examiner ruling her death as a homicide.
An empty urn was used during the memorial service. The FBI has not yet released Gabby’s remains to her family since discovering them last Sunday in Wyoming. Officials have not provided a timeline as to when they might do so.
"I don’t want you guys to be sad," her father, Joseph, said to begin the service. "Gabby didn’t live that way…I’m asking you guys be inspired the way she treated people. She didn’t care she genuinely loved people. I couldn’t be more proud as a father."
In lieu of flowers, the Petito family is requesting donations for the future Gabby Petito Foundation. The foundation is aimed at helping families with resources and guidance to help bring missing children home. Additional information can be found here.
While she will be laid to rest in New York, hundreds in North Port held their own vigil for Gabby over the weekend. In fact, the city has held several since she was first reported missing.
On Saturday night, North Port residents gathered by city hall for the first time since she was found dead. It started with a butterfly release, then a silent prayer, and a candlelight vigil.
About 200 people attended, all to honor Gabby's life.
Brian Laundrie search
For the last week, search crews have scoured the 25,000 acres that make up Carlton Reserve. That’s where Laundrie’s parents told police Brian went for a hike on September 14. He hasn’t been heard from since. His parents reported him missing on September 17.
The family attorney told FOX News the parents – Christopher and Roberta Laundrie – said Brian did not take a cell phone or wallet with him, and they’re worried he might hurt himself. Officials have already combed the whole north side of the park and much of the Venice side of the reserve.
While nothing of note has been reported from this weekend's search, investigators now have an extra hand in their manhunt. Dog the Bounty Hunter paid a visit to the Laundrie family home in North Port but received no answer.
Duane Chapman – his real name – and his wife were already on their honeymoon in Florida when people started reaching out to him about the case. Now, he’s joining the hunt for 23-year-old Brian. He said his expertise could help investigators.
Chapman is a father of 13 children. He lost a daughter around the same age as Gabby back in 2006 in a car accident. He said he can relate to Gabby’s family and wants to help get justice for them.
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