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What is Fort De Soto Park? Brian Laundrie, parents stayed at park between Sept 1-3 and 6-8

The image shows Brian Laundrie smiling as he stands behind bars of a jail cell at the old fort alongside girlfriend Gabby Petito
UPDATED SEP 28, 2021
Dog the Bounty Hunter is trying to help the search for Gabby Petito's boyfriend Brian Laundrie (Jemal Countess/Getty Images, Instagram/@gabspetito)
Dog the Bounty Hunter is trying to help the search for Gabby Petito's boyfriend Brian Laundrie (Jemal Countess/Getty Images, Instagram/@gabspetito)

An image posted on Gabby Petito's Instagram in February is making the rounds after it was tagged at the Fort De Soto Park in Florida, close to where Dog the Bounty Hunter is reportedly probing a tip alleging Brian Laundrie and his parents visited a campground in early September and returned without him. The image, which shows the missing fugitive smiling as he stands behind bars of a jail cell at the old fort, was followed by a review the couple later posted of the Fort De Soto Park on the travel website The Dyrt. They described it as a "really nice campground, beautiful area with many hikes and easy walks, the beach, historic sites, really nice camp store, and well-maintained sites!"

MEAWW previously reported how Laundrie's mother called the cops on Duane 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' Chapman despite his efforts to aid the search of her missing son. Laundrie, 23, mysteriously disappeared on September 14, three days after Petito's family reported her missing. Authorities found her body on September 19 at a campground in Wyoming’s Bridger Teton National Forest, near the Grand Teton National Park.


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Speaking to Fox News on Monday, September 27, Chapman said he received a credible tip that Laundrie's parents spent the night in Fort De Soto Park with their son twice from September 1 to 3 and from September 6 to 8. He added that on the second trip, three people entered the park but only two people left.

"They were registered, went through the gate. They’re on camera. They were here," he told Fox News. "We think at least if he’s not here right now, we are sure he was caught on camera as he went in the gate — that he was here for sure." 

What is Fort De Soto Park?

The Fort De Soto Park is located about 75 miles northwest of the Laundries' North Port, Florida, residence. It's known to attract more than 2.7 million visitors annually, according to Pinellas County’s website. "The largest park within the Pinellas County Park System, Fort De Soto Park consists of 1,136 acres made up of five interconnected islands (keys)," the website states. "These keys are home to beach plants, mangroves, wetlands, palm hammocks, hardwoods, and scores of native plants. Each of these species plays a vital role in the preservation and protection of the natural environment." 

A photo of La Plage, Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde, Florida beach, taken on 28 December 2012 (Richard McNeil/Wikimedia Commons)

According to the website, the historical park contains more than 7 miles of waterfront and an "800-foot-long boat launching facility with eleven floating docks." The fort, located on Mullet Key and completed in 1900, is named after the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, who apparently visited the region during a conquest in 1539, per the nonprofit 'Friends of Fort De Soto'.

The group, however, adds that the fort never saw any real combat. "In 1941 the property was sold back to the federal government for $18,404 to be used as a gunnery and bombing range during World War II," Pinellas County says. "The property was repurchased from the United States in 1948 for $26,500." According to Friends of Fort De Soto, the park was eventually designated in 1963.