Police in Florida are searching for the missing fiance of Gabby Petito, whose body appears to have been found in a wilderness camping area in Wyoming.
The disappearance of Petito, 22, during a four-month cross-country trip by van has fixated the US media. Her fiance, Brian Laundrie, 23, returned alone without her and had declined to be interviewed by police after the alarm was raised by her family. Laundrie himself was reported missing by his parents on Friday.
Interest in the case has been fuelled by the apparent disconnect between idealised images of the increasingly popular nomadic “van life” – on social media sites such as Instagram – that the couple had promoted on their social media accounts and the more fractious reality that has emerged from police cam footage of an emotional encounter with the couple during a fight between the pair.
Human remains, which the FBI has indicated were most likely Petito’s, were found on Sunday in Bridger-Teton national forest on the east boundary of Grand Teton national park
The body recovered on Sunday resembles Petito’s description, but a cause of death has yet to be determined, FBI agent Charles Jones told a news conference.
Jones said Petito’s family had been notified of the discovery, but that authorities would not be able to confirm that the body was her until after forensic analysis.
“On behalf of the FBI personnel and our partners, I would like to extend sincere, sincere and heartfelt condolences to Gabby’s family,” said Jones
“As every parent can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult time for the family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We ask that you all respect their privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter.”
Petito last contacted her family to inform them that she was in the Grand Teton national park in Wyoming in August and authorities say she had not been heard from since.
Moab police department video shows Gabby Petito talking to a police officer after being pulled over with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches national park, Utah, in August. Photograph: APLaundrie had returned alone to their home in Florida on 1 September and it was 10 days later that Petito’s family filed a missing-persons report.
After Petito’s disappearance authorities expressed “frustration” about not being able to speak to Laundrie. Police have identified him as a person of interest in the case.
According to local police and the FBI, Laundrie, who had declined to be interviewed about Petito’s disappearance through a lawyer, went missing over the weekend with police saying they were searching a large nature reserve in Florida among other locations.
Underlining the mystery over what occurred had been the release last week by police in Utah of video of a traffic stop of the couple, that showed Petito weeping.
Laundrie had acknowledged that the couple had scuffled after he got into the van with dirty feet and described the “emotional strain” of sharing the small space of their van.
However, both asked the police to treat the incident as a “mental/emotional health break” rather than as a domestic assault, with Petito telling police she suffered from anxiety.
The body was found after police had increasingly focused their search on the Spread Creek Road dispersed camp in Grand Teton national park one of several that Petito had said the couple planned to visit.
The search of the campsite came after another couple, Jenn and Kyle Bethune, had posted video describing coming across a vehicle similar to that owned by Petito and Laundrie in August.
“This is at the Spread Creek dispersed camping area. We got there and there was a huge gravel lot and we decided we wanted to try to drive more toward the back because we’d heard the views were better back here. So we were heading back on this long dirt, gravel road,” Bethune said, narrating the video he posted on Saturday night.
His wife continued: “And we came across a white van that had Florida plates, a small white van. We were going to stop and say hi because we’re from Florida too, but the van was completely dark there was nobody there so we decided to continue on our way.”
Interest in a downsised “van life” lifestyle has exploded in recent years driven by social media accounts and vlogs portraying an idyllic life on the road and the business of converting the vehicles.
Laundrie had posted on Instagram how the couple were “downsising our life into this itty bitty van” decorating it with plants, small pieces of art and photos.