Gabby Petito investigation: Florida police search warrant provides new details

Crime

(Eagle 8/WFLA photo)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida police department’s search warrant from Sept. 15 gives new details about the timeline of events surrounding the missing persons case of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old woman who vanished in late August.

The search warrant was signed to allow detectives from the North Port Police Department to examine an external hard drive currently located at the North Port Police Department’s evidence locker. On Sept. 17, her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, was reported missing and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation removed items from the home to help search for him.

In the warrant, police were given authority to search “any and all external storage device(s), commercial software and hardware, computer disks, disk drives, tape drives, disk application programs, data disks, system disk operating systems, electronic mail, system storage devices, tape systems and hard drive and other computer-related operation equipment, in addition to computer photographs, graphic interchange formats and/or photographs, or other visual depictions.”

Additionally, the warrant gives police access to any digital documents, notes, passwords, encryptions or data security devices which might keep them from accessing the hardware, software, or data on the devices, as well as all data and files associated with the external device.

This includes data files, password-protected files, images, texts, files that show emails, text messages, and internet browsing history as well as computer files showing who owned, possessed or used the computers, and storage devices to include but not limited to email associated files.

The warrant said that there was probable cause for issuance as a result of the item potentially containing evidence that a felony had been committed. In the affidavit submitted by North Port detectives, a timeline of Petito and Laundrie’s trip and the video journey they had taken together across social media platforms were detailed.

The timeline written by detectives for the search warrant covers a series of messages between Petito and her family, including “odd” messages to her mother received on Aug. 27, and a report that the van was detected by a license plate reader on the Sumter Boulevard exit of I-75. The timeline states that “a white Ford Transit, bearing Florida tag QFTG03…entered the City of North Port” on Sept. 1 at 10:26 a.m.

Petito was officially declared a missing person by Suffolk County Police in New York on Sept. 11, following reports from Moab City Police after a domestic issue between Petito and Laundrie while in Moab, Utah. That incident occurred on Aug. 12.

The reports from Moab Police remarked on concerns about Petito’s and Laundrie’s mental health at the time, particularly Petito’s. Body camera footage released during the search for Petito showed a high level of anxiety, noted in the report by Moab Police.

Those concerns prompted Suffolk County PD to note that based on the Moab Police report, Petito appeared “endangered, due to mental health concerns.”

The timeline also stated that due to the circumstances related to Petito’s mental health, North Port Police believe there is probable cause that she is not able to care for herself due to “her increased anxiety” and concerns for her welfare had increased to an “exigent level.”

Petito’s cellphone was turned off for about 15 days, and was last on around Aug. 31 or Sept. 1. Petito had not been seen since Aug. 27. On Sept. 14, police executed a search warrant for the van that she and Laundrie had traveled in.

Inside the vehicle, crime scene technicians found the external hard drive at the center of the Sept. 15 search warrant. Police believe the storage device might have “viable digital forensic data” on it that could help them in their investigation.

On Sept. 19, a body was found near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming that matched Petito’s description. At a news conference, FBI officials announced the find, and expressed condolences for the Petito and Schmidt family. North Port police also put out a message on Twitter that they were “saddened and heartbroken to learn that Gabby has been found deceased.”

On Mondy, FBI agents were again at the Laundrie home to execute a search warrant related to the Petito investigation.

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