Petito, 22, was reported missing by her family on Saturday, after they had not heard from her since late August, according to police in North Port, Florida.
“Finding this girl is what matters,” her father, Joe Petito, said Thursday during a news briefing with North Port police, pointing to a photo of the missing woman. “Anything else … comes second to this.”
Petito is believed to have been in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming before her last contact with family, police said. She was traveling with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, who has returned to Florida, hired a lawyer and, along with his family, has refused to speak with investigators.
“I’m asking for help from everyone here. I’m asking for help from everyone at home. I’m asking for help from the parents of Brian,” said Petito’s father, urging anyone with information to call the FBI hotline at 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).
Laundrie was traveling with Petito in her white 2012 Ford Transit van with Florida plates, according to a police statement. The van was recovered on Sunday at the North Port home she shared with Laundrie and his parents, the statement said. Laundrie reportedly returned to North Port on September 1.
An attorney for the Laundrie family said in a statement Tuesday that his clients were “remaining in the background … and will have no further comment” on the advice of counsel.
“It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming,” Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino said in the statement.
North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said Thursday that a missing persons investigation is being conducted and no criminal charges were forthcoming at this time.
“Brian is exercising his constitutional rights, and I have to respect them,” Garrison said of Laundrie and his family. The focus of the investigation, he added, “isn’t to bring Brian in right now.”
Police describe Petito as White, about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 110 pounds, with blonde hair, blue eyes and several tattoos, including one on her finger and one on her forearm that reads “Let it be.”
North Port police are leading the investigation, with assistance from the FBI. Petito’s family lives in New York and reported her missing to the police department in Suffolk County, New York.
Petito and boyfriend had ‘altercation’ in Utah
In August, police in Moab, Utah, encountered Petito and her boyfriend as they were “engaged in some sort of altercation,” according to a report released by the Moab City Police Department.
Moab City police responded to reports of disorderly conduct on August 12 and encountered Laundrie and Petito, along with a witness whose full name was redacted from the report.
Laundrie and Petito were described as having a physical fight following an argument but “both the male and female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” according to the report from Officer Eric Pratt.
At the officers’ suggestion, Laundrie and Petito separated for the night, the report said. Petito was described by an officer as “confused and emotional.”
“After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,” Officer Daniel Robbins wrote in the police report. No arrests were filed.
Robbins wrote that Laundrie said the couple had been traveling for “4 or 5 months.”