Jones said that Petito’s family had been notified, but that authorities could not fully confirm that the body is hers until a forensic analysis is completed.
Petito disappeared shortly after she contacted her family from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming in August, authorities said. Then, her 23-year-old fiance, Brian Laundrie returned to their home in Florida on Sept. 1 without her, and later, on Sept. 11, Petito’s family filed a missing-person report with police in Suffolk County, N.Y., where the couple is from.
Then Laundrie vanished, too. Over the weekend, the police and the FBI announced that they were looking for him in a nature preserve, and police in North Port, Fla., said Sunday night that their search had concluded for the day with nothing to report. Laundrie’s parents told police on Friday that they had not seen their son since Tuesday.
Video released last week by Utah police undercut the happy image the couple projected online. Petito was seen crying in the body-camera footage of an Aug. 12 traffic stop, when an officer in Moab pulled the couple over following a fight.
Laundrie acknowledged that the couple had gotten into a scuffle after he climbed into their converted sleeper van with dirty feet, body-cam footage shows. He told police that weeks of traveling with each other had placed an “emotional strain” on their relationship.
Petito was “crying uncontrollably” when an officer approached, according to a police report, and could not “stop crying, breathing heavily, or compose a sentence without needing to wipe away tears, wipe her nose, or rub her knees with her hands.”
She told police that the couple had been fighting that morning.
In the weeks before Petito’s disappearance, the couple had shared detailed accounts of their adventures on social media, posting photos and videos.
In a YouTube video posted Aug. 19, the couple can be seen smiling, kissing, holding hands and doing cartwheels on a beach.
Nichole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, told CBS New York last week that her daughter stayed in close contact for most of the trip, until their last video call in late August. Then communications stopped abruptly, Schmidt said, and she began to worry.
“I just believe she’s in danger because she’s not in touch with us,” Schmidt told the TV station. “She could be alone somewhere, she could be stranded somewhere in the wilderness. And she needs help.”
Public interest in the case grew as authorities expressed frustration over Laundrie and his family’s refusal to come forward with information about the disappearance. On Wednesday, Todd Garrison, police chief of Florida’s North Port Police Department, pleaded with Steven Bertolino, Laundrie’s attorney, to arrange a conversation with his client.
Bertolino said he advised his client not to speak with investigators.
Laundrie has not been arrested or declared a suspect in the case, only a “person of interest.”
After Sunday’s announcement, the North Port Police Department tweeted that they “will continue to work with the FBI in the search for more answers.”
In a news conference last week, Petito’s parents urged Laundrie’s parents to reveal information about their daughter’s whereabouts.
“We ask you to put yourselves in our shoes,” they said in a letter read by their lawyer, Richard Stafford. “We haven’t been able to sleep or eat. And our lives are falling apart.”
The Washington Post could not reach Petito’s family Sunday night, and an attorney for the family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Laundrie family called the news “heartbreaking” in a statement Sunday night and said it is praying for Gabby Petito and her family. “Tonight America mourns for Gabby,” Bertolino added in a statement.
Although the FBI stopped short of officially identifying the remains, it shared “heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family and loved ones.”
“This is an incredibly difficult time for them, and our thoughts are with them as they mourn the loss of their daughter,” the FBI Denver Field Office said in a news release.
The Teton County coroner’s office is planning an autopsy for Tuesday, according to KUTV.
The FBI — in coordination with the National Park Service, and the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and Jackson Police Department, both in Wyoming — had been searching the areas of Grand Teton National Park for several days.
The case has captivated social media users who tried to gather clues. On TikTok, the #gabbypetito hashtag had been viewed hundreds of millions of times as of Sunday night, and content creators have posted updates and shared theories constantly since her disappearance was reported.
Timothy Bella contributed to this report.