(CNN) – Local and federal investigators have searched for 22-year-old Gabby Petito’s fiancé Brian Laundrie for about a month in a Florida nature preserve that spans nearly 10,100 acres.
Petito’s parents reported his disappearance last month after a cross-country road trip the couple started over the summer. Laundrie returned in Petito’s truck to the couple’s home in North Port, Florida, on September 1 and went on a field trip to nearby Carlton Reserve about two weeks later, according to what her parents told police.
Petito’s remains were discovered in Wyoming on September 19. The Teton County Coroner determined that the cause of death was strangulation. Authorities have not linked Laundrie to Petito’s murder, but he is the subject of a federal arrest warrant by the events after his death.
So far, researchers have found no trace of him in the vast reserve they have surveyed. Last week, North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor said there was “nothing to suggest” whether or not Laundrie was alive. Police also indicated that no one has seen Laundrie on the reservation, adding that the search was prompted by information from Laundrie’s parents, who said he went there. Taylor said search teams have not found any physical evidence of Laundrie there, but plan to continue the search until they have better information.
How the search proceeds from here largely depends on how many more leads investigators continue to obtain and how many resources they can allocate, experts who are not connected to the investigation told CNN.
What we know about the search
Investigators began the search at the Carlton Reserve after speaking with Laundrie’s parents on September 17, recruiting dozens of agents, drones and swamp buggies.
A K-9 human remains detection unit from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office was deployed Thursday to assist North Port Police and the FBI in the search for Laundrie. These K-9s have assisted in the search for Laundrie on the reservation multiple times over the past month, according to Amanda Hunter, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
CNN contacted North Port Police for more details on the search.
“We will not provide daily updates and details on the search. If something important is found, we will be part of that conversation at that time,” Taylor said.
The FBI did not comment on CNN’s questions about the search.
They could search the reserve for weeks
While a month may seem like a long time, an active physical search for Laundrie could go on for weeks if more information continues to come in, according to Paul Belli, retired Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant and president of the Association of International Homicide Investigators. .
In searches like this, researchers can start by focusing on the sections of the reserve where they think Laundrie is most likely to be found, followed by the areas they think are the second and third most likely places for him, Belli said.
“I certainly believe that if I really had the resources to do an exhaustive search of 10,100 hectares, I suppose it would be many months,” he said.
Those initial areas of focus would likely include dry areas, as parts of the reserve tend to be swamp-like, according to Chris Boyer, executive director of the nonprofit National Search and Rescue Association. Other areas of focus could include places that are far from hiking trails or trails, in case Laundrie wanted to evade authorities and avoid being found.
And then perhaps authorities can conduct “web searches,” Boyer said, although they require a great deal of resources, including a large number of personnel walking very closely to thoroughly search a specific area.
“That (search) happens when you have no other leads to follow,” added Boyer. “You have observed this person’s behavior, you have tried to outline their skill set and what they may have at their disposal in the form of resources, and you have tried to look in the most likely places that they would be based on.”
Boyer added that he believes that if Laundrie were on the reservation, authorities would have found him or found clues to him.
A large part of how researchers search and what areas they focus on generally has to do with the type of advice they receive. At this point in the investigation, a lot of leads are likely to still come through, Belli said.
“I’m sure they get many, many leads. So continuing the search seems perfectly appropriate to me, even though it’s been a while,” he said. “In (2006) we had the murder of one of our police officers and there were more than 6,500 leads in that particular case over the years, and a good 4,000 of them came in the first months of that investigation.”
Transition to a less active search
Once authorities have no reason to believe that Laundrie is still in the reserve and the number of leads decreases, they may have to withdraw some of those search resources and focus on other parts of the investigation, Belli said. But that could take weeks or months.
“If you only have one cap available to you, there is a point where you have to make a tough decision … and really look at that objectively and say, ‘We’ve done what we can currently, let’s move on to another mode,'” he said. “There just comes a point where you don’t have the manpower or the resources to continue that kind of search.”
At that point, Boyer said, investigators can go through all the leads in the case and reevaluate what led them to the reservation, as well as focus on Laundrie’s electronic fingerprints – something they are likely already doing.
A source close to the Laundrie family told CNN last month that Laundrie left home without his wallet and without a cell phone that he had bought at the beginning of September.
CNN also confirmed that police do not have the phone Laundrie had with him during the couple’s trip, nor Petito’s phone.
Laundrie’s family attorney, Steven Bertolino, told CNN earlier this month that Laundrie’s parents now believe he left home for a field trip on September 13, a day earlier than they initially reported to. police. That could mean investigators might have to go back to all the places they suspect Laundrie might have been seen and ask for images from the day before, according to Boyer.
“You look at this and you go back to the day he was actually reported missing and you say, ‘Okay, even if the guy only walked three miles per hour, and he only walked eight hours a day, that’s 38 kilometers a day in the it could go either way, times X days, ‘”Boyer said.“ It probably could have been out of the state of Florida. If you were in a car, driving 35, 40 or 60 miles per hour, you could be anywhere in the United States. “
In addition to the active physical search, authorities in a case like this would also want to obtain Laundrie’s information on the global Crime Stoppers network or a list of the most wanted by the FBI, or put information about the search on billboards in certain areas. Belli said. Your information could also be entered into the National Criminal Information Center, which could help police officers identify you if Laundrie encounters the police, Belli added.
“There are many technological resources that they can take advantage of,” Belli said. “Frankly, it’s just having the information available because when people call, ‘Hey, I saw it,’ those are all ads that you’re going to be looking into.”
Both experts agreed that the media attention the case has received could play an important role in helping locate Laundrie if he is in the US and evading authorities.
“Every person who watches the news or reads about it becomes an unconscious seeker,” Boyer said. “At least unconsciously they will have some knowledge about what is happening and if they see something that seems out of place or ping that memory of what is happening here, they could call 911.”
Belli added: “They have made it very difficult for him to just be outside, walking.”
Years to go for the case to cool
In an exclusive interview with Dr. Phil that aired earlier this month, Petito’s father, Joe Petito, said he wants Laundrie to be found alive.
But even if Laundrie is not found anytime soon, experts told CNN the case is likely years from cooling off.
“As for this being a cold case … it is a department by definition of a department, but generally speaking, people tend to accept three to five years with absolutely no new leads, no new evidence, nothing new (until cool), and that’s a long way from where we are, “said Sheryl McCollum, director of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute, a nonprofit organization. “That is not the case here at all.”
“Local departments, where they may believe that there has been a sighting, will generally have that person at the forefront of their minds for years,” McCollum added.
While active search efforts may not look the same in the coming months or years if Laundrie is not found, there are likely investigators assigned to the case who will continue to work on it, according to Belli.