By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) - The boyfriend of a 22-year-old woman who went missing while on a cross-country trip with him in a van has been named a person of interest in the case, Florida police said on Wednesday.
Gabby Petito lost contact with her family in late August and before that she was believed to be in Wyoming, police said.
Brian Laundrie returned to the home he shared with his family and Petito in North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1, North Port Police said in a statement. Petito's parents reported her missing 10 days later.
Laundrie has refused to speak to investigators, police said. North Port police are leading the investigation and working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"We are pleading with anyone, including Brian, to share information with us on her whereabouts in the past few weeks," North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said in a statement.
Attorney Steven Bertolino, who represents Laundrie, defended his client's silence in a statement on Wednesday.
"Intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this and the warning that 'any statement made will be used against you' is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito's disappearance," Bertolino said.
In a YouTube video entitled "Beginning Our Van Life Journey," posted on Aug. 19, the couple was seen smiling, kissing, running on beaches, posing in front of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and driving through deserts and cities in a white van.
Police said on Wednesday they had recovered the van in North Port and processed it for evidence.
Petito's family last had contact with her around Aug. 24, and before that she was believed to be in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, police said.
A Moab, Utah, police report, seen by Reuters, showed that two officers responded to an incident involving Petito and Laundrie on Aug. 12.
Police stopped the couple's van after a witness reported a possible "domestic problem," the report showed. Laundrie told officers that he and Petito had been traveling together for four or five months and were arguing more frequently because "that time created emotional strain."
One officer wrote that Petito was "crying uncontrollably" in the passenger seat when he approached the van.
"No one reported that the male struck the female, both the male and the female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn't wish to see anyone charged with a crime," another officer wrote.
Moab Police concluded it did not escalate to the level of a domestic assault, the report said.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)