Federal investigators are still searching for Laundrie, who returned home to Florida without 22-year-old Petito on Sept. 1 and vanished several days after her family reported her missing. Laundrie was named a “person of interest” in Petito’s disappearance before her body was found in an undeveloped camping area of the Grand Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sunday, but at the time had not been charged with any crime directly tied to her disappearance or 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 in Ms. Petito’s homicide,” Michael Schneider, the FBI Denver special agent in charge, said in a statement Thursday.
News of Laundrie’s indictment comes as the steady stream of developments in Petito’s case have gripped the nation — and prompted questions about media, crime and racial disparities.
Some of the questions are newer, like the role of Internet sleuths who drove early interest in Petito’s case on YouTube and Instagram, two platforms where Petito posted updates about her cross-country travels with Laundrie. Others have persisted for decades, like the perennial media fascination with missing-person cases involving young White women and questions of how the disparate coverage affects cases of missing people of color and their families.
Petito’s case has also raised questions about how police handle cases involving domestic abuse. Petito and Laundrie shared their seemingly idyllic life of travel on social media, but in the days after Petito went missing, that image was undercut by police footage of the couple from a traffic stop in Utah. In it, police observed Petito is distraught and “crying uncontrollably” and admits the couple’s travels had put a strain on their relationship and that Laundrie initially wouldn’t let her in the car.
The same day the couple was stopped by police in Utah, a witness called 911 to report a “domestic problem” between a couple that matched the description of Petito and Laundrie. The caller observed the couple fight and saw the man slap the woman.
Laundrie returned alone to his family home in Florida on Sept. 1, more than two months ahead of the couple’s planned arrival in Portland, Ore.
After Petito’s family reported her missing Sept. 11, Laundrie refused to cooperate with investigators on the advice of a lawyer. Days later he told his parents he was going to hike the Carlton Reserve, a roughly 25,000-acre wetlands area in Sarasota County, in the southwest part of the state and has not been seen since.
Federal investigators searched Laundrie’s family home on Monday and have spent the week combing the reserve for any trace of him.