VENICE, Fla. — This is the dense terrain inside a massive, alligator-infested Florida reserve where authorities resumed their search for Gabby Petito’s boyfriend Brian Laundrie Tuesday morning.
Laundrie, 23, sought for questioning in Petito’s disappearance and suspected death, is believed to have vanished inside the 25,000-acre T. Mabry Carlton Memorial Reserve near the couple’s home in North Port.
The reserve has trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, and camping areas, but is largely covered by thick foliage, mangroves and marshy terrain that makes the search a challenge.
“I ride my horses down in there and there’s trails, there’s all kinds of trails,” said Francine Smetts, 59, who’s lived in the area for 15 years and runs a farm that abuts the reserve.
“But it’s super wet, it’s like a swamp right now because of all the rain we’ve had,” Smetts said. “You can go maybe a mile in and then it’s just water everywhere. Lots of water.”
She said the reserve is also replete with gators, “poisonous snakes” and “relentless” mosquitos.
“If you’re in the sun, they won’t bother you but if you step into the shade, the mosquitos will just start after you and so I’m just surprised anybody would be out there hiding,” she said.
“I can’t imagine one night out there and I camp and stuff,” Smetts continued. “I’d be terrified.”
Smetts added that her dog, a 6-year-old Rottweiler and hound mix named Obi Wan P’Nuppy, has been acting strangely for the last three days and she’s started to lock her doors because she’s concerned Laundrie could be lurking nearby.
“He doesn’t normally act this way,” she said of her dog.
“He goes rushing out, crouched down running like he’s not normally doing and headed towards the woods and we have deer, we have turkeys, he never does that. He might run out and bark a little bit, not like that, not like that mode,” Smetts explained. “We pay attention to our animals.”
Smetts said she’s become “concerned” for her “safety” ever since her dog’s bizarre behavior began.
“My husband’s like, ‘Well it’s gotta be a deer’ and I go, ‘No, that’s not what he does with deer’ so we just keep our doors locked,” she said.
Petito, 22, disappeared in Wyoming late last month while on a cross-country trip with Laundrie — who returned home without her on Sept. 1 and refused to talk to cops.
A body believed to be Petito’s was found at the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Sunday, two days after Laundrie’s parents told police he went for a hike in the Carlton Reserve and was never heard from again.
Teton County Coroner Brent Blue is due to perform an autopsy on Tuesday.
A team of FBI agents and local authorities searched the park on Saturday and Sunday but found no trace of Laundrie.