NORTH PORT, Fla. — One of the two dueling searches in the Gabby Petito case took another turn Sunday after authorities found human remains they believe to be her near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
The second search — which aims to find her fiancé and the sole person of interest in the case — came up empty handed after a second full day searching a wildlife refuge in Florida.
The tragic twists and turns after Petito, 22, who disappeared on a trip with her fiancé last month, has fueled a massive law enforcement and social media effort to solve the complex, cross-country mystery.
The FBI on Sunday announced a body appearing to be Petito was found near a camping area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. While a forensic examination had not yet been done to verify it was her remains, the FBI said the body was "consistent with the description" of Petito.
A cause of death was not immediately known.
As authorities made the announcement, law enforcement in Florida paused the near 25,000-acre search in Florida's Carlton Reserve for her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, until Monday morning. They'd spent Sunday searching the vast stretches of hiking trails and brush for any sign of Laundrie.
But after a second full day, authorities came up empty-handed.
Police described Laundrie, 23, as a person of interest in the case. Petito had been last seen in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming in late August. Laundrie returned here alone Sept. 1 from the couple's weeks-long trip, only to disappear himself last week.
Nearly 100 area residents gathered Saturday night at a "Light of Hope" vigil to show support for the Petito family. Vigil attendees tied green ribbons and placed memorabilia at the community tree that stands in front of North Port City Hall. The tree will remain an official gathering place for residents and visitors who wish to add candles, letters or cards in support of finding answers.
Lisa Correll, a North Port resident and concerned mother, said she doesn't know Petito personally, but the incident has shaken the community, and residents should do whatever they can to make sure Petito’s family feels their love and support.
“Everyone is thinking of her, her family and what they’re going through,” Correll said.
Laundrie and his family had declined to discuss Petito's case with police – until Friday, when family members filed a missing persons report for Laundrie, North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“It is important to note that while Brian is a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance, he is not wanted for a crime,” North Port police said in a statement.
The family said they believe Laundrie went to the reserve earlier in the week. North Port police, the FBI and other agencies are conducting a search of the 25,000-acre, Sarasota County preserve.
"The search for Brian Laundrie continues Sunday morning in the Carlton Reserve," North Port police said in a tweet accompanied by photos of the search teams and the terrain. "A team of more than 50 looking for anything of note after his parents say this is where he went."
Authorities used drones, scent-sniffing dogs and all-terrain vehicles. Investigators took some of his clothing from his parents’ home to provide a scent for the search dogs.
Petito's mother, Nicole Schmidt, last reported speaking with her daughter Aug. 25, and the family filed a missing person’s report Sept. 11. The FBI in Denver said agents conducted ground surveys at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming with help from the National Park Service and law enforcement agencies, seeking clues to Petito’s disappearance.
The case is a social media obsession. On TikTok, the hashtag #gabbypetito has gained more than 275 million views, and many creators share updates – often of unconfirmed reports, screenshots of texts from amateur sleuths about their theories and their own feelings about the case.
Some of the creators more actively posting about the case have changed their bio to: "Let's help find Gabby Petito." Subsequent hashtags include #findgabbypeitito and #gabbypetitoupdate have drawn more than 30 million views and 22 million views respectively. The #brianlaundrie hashtag has more than 100 million views.
Some of the information includes leads. Miranda Baker, in videos posted to TikTok, said she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie, who was hitchhiking, on Aug. 29 at Grand Teton Park. She said they notified police of the brief meeting.
"He approached us, asking us for a ride because he needed to go to Jackson (Wyoming)," she said. "We were going to Jackson that night, so I said, 'Hop in,' and he hopped into the back of my jeep."
Baker said Laundrie told them that he had been camping alone for a few days, that his girlfriend was in their van, posting on their social media page. Authorities in Utah said Laundrie and Petito had been involved in an incident Aug. 12 in Moab, but responding officers filed no charges and instructed the couple to spend the night apart. She was to stay in the van while Laundrie was taken elsewhere.
Baker said she thought it was "weird" when Laundrie offered to pay $200 for a short ride, but a few minutes later, Laundrie asked to get out of the jeep and left.
Two days later, Laundrie returned home to Florida without Petito. Laundrie's lawyer, Steven Bertolino, said he instructed Laundrie and his family not to discuss the case with police.
The couple set out in July from Long Island, where they had been high school sweethearts, in a Ford Transit van, according to their social media accounts. They planned to reach Oregon by the end of October. Before the trip, they lived with Laundrie's parents, who moved to North Port in recent years.
On Instagram, the top account when searching Gabby Petito's name is @gabby.petito, which started posting three days ago and is "a community dedicated" to the missing woman.
Gabby Petito timeline: From road trip with Brian Laundrie to missing persons investigation
Twitter is also used to spread information and updates about the case, and some users even post memes about how they're attempting to solve it.
A subreddit (r/GabbyPetito) dedicated to Petito has 72,000 members. Some of the rules of the subreddit include "No Doxxing/Posting Personal Information," and "No Rumor-Mongering or Misinformation."
Baker said on her TikTok posts that she is willing to do anything to help authorities solve the case.
"I am really just hoping that they find her," she said.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia, and Connor from Washington. Contributing: Anne Snabes, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Christine Fernando, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gabby Petito mystery prompts searches by police, social media sleuths