A search warrant issued last week shows that authorities in North Port, Florida, obtained a hard drive from Gabby Petito’s vehicle four days after she was reported missing.
On Sunday, searchers found human remains in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, where Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie were believed to have been headed before Petito fell out of contact with her family. The remains reportedly match Petito’s description, but the body has not yet been positively identified.
Petito and Laundrie left for a cross-country road trip in June, and Petito stopped communicating and posting on social media in mid-to-late August.
North Port police documents, first obtained by WESH 2, show that a search warrant was executed on September 14, three days after Petito’s mother reported her missing. The documents show that police took possession of a hard drive that appears to have been in Petito’s 2012 Ford Transit van, which the couple had converted into a camper for the trip. The warrant authorizes investigators to withdraw possible evidence from the hard drive, including digital forensics, passwords, and records of online communication.
“This computer(s) external storage device(s) is potentially the subject’s property, and due to that, it may contain visible digital forensic data that could assist in the location of said missing endangered subject,” the document reads, referring to Petito as the “subject.”
“Your affiant knows that computer hardware, software, and electronic files may be important to a criminal investigation in two distinct ways: (1) The object themselves may be contraband, evidence, or fruits of crime, and/or (2) the objects may be used as storage devices that contain contraband, evidence, instrumentalities, or fruits of crime in the form of electronic data.”
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Laundrie arrived back in Florida with the vehicle on September 1, and without Petito. He has yet to speak directly to police, and his whereabouts are unknown. On September 15, before it was known that Laundrie was missing or had fled, North Port police named Laundrie a person of interest but not a suspect; police still have not publicly categorized the presumed death investigation as criminal in nature, though the FBI executed a search warrant at the home of Laundrie’s parents on Monday.
The documents present a new account of Petito’s last communication with her parents. Numerous previous reports had stated that Petito’s mother received a text message from Petito’s phone on August 30 that read, “No service in Yosemite.” Petito’s mother reportedly said she did not believe the text message was written or sent by her daughter.
The newly released documents state that Petito’s last text message to her mother was received on August 27, in reference to a man believed to be Petito’s grandfather.
From the police filing:
“On August 27, 2021, the subject’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, received an ‘odd text’ from the subject. The message read, ‘Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.’ The reference to ‘Stan,’ was regarding her grandfather, but per her mother, she never calls him ‘Stan.’ The mother was concerned that something was wrong with her daughter.
That was the last communicate anyone had with the subject. Her cellphone was no longer operational, and she stopped posting anything on social media about their trip. “
It is unclear why the date of Petito’s last known message is different in the search warrant filing than in earlier reports.
On Tuesday, a medical examiner is scheduled to perform an autopsy on the human remains found in Wyoming on Sunday. The autopsy is expected to provide a positive identification and information about the cause and manner of death.
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