Brian Laundrie search: Body found in North Port preserve
NORTH PORT, Fla. - The nationwide search for Brian Laundrie may be over. A body was found Wednesday during the ongoing manhunt for the only person of interest in the Gabby Petito case, and while investigators have yet to identify the remains, items belonging to Brian were found nearby.
The FBI and Sarasota County Medical Examiner's Office are among those who were on the scene at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port, working to identify human remains spotted in an area that was previously underwater.
"Our evidence response team is on scene using all available forensic resources to process the area," FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson said Wednesday afternoon. "It's likely the team will be on the scene for several days."
Laundrie's parents, who reported him missing from their North Port home over a month ago, were at the park Wednesday morning and "appeared emotional" as they left, FOX News reported.
The Laundrie family attorney confirmed Chris and Roberta Laundrie were present when the remains and items were found.
"Chris and Roberta Laundrie were at the reserve earlier today when human remains and some of Brian’s possessions were located in an area where they had initially advised law enforcement that Brian may be. Chris and Roberta will wait for the forensic identification of the human remains before making any additional comments," the statement from attorney Steven Bertolino said.
Brian Laundrie is wanted on a federal warrant, charged with intent to defraud for one or more unauthorized uses of Gabby's bank card, between August 30 and September 1, taking more than $1,000. Officials have not called him a suspect in Gabby's homicide. A Wyoming coroner said she died by strangulation, and her body was likely outside for up to four weeks, but no suspects have been named in her death.
Gabby disappeared during a cross-country trip with Brian, her fiancé, sparking a nationwide search for the 22-year-old that ended with authorities finding her remains at a Wyoming national park.
MORE: Gabby Petito case: Timeline of 22-year-old woman's disappearance
For weeks, Florida authorities scoured Carlton Reserve and neighboring Myakkahatchee Creek park, searching for any sign of Brian before scaling back those efforts nearly a week later. On Friday, Sept. 17, his parents said he was missing, telling North Port police they believed he would be in the preserve. At the time, they said he left the home on Tuesday, Sept. 14 , sparking the search. Then, according to the family attorney, in early October they said they believed he left one day earlier than they previously thought.
Alleged sightings of Brian were reported since then, even as far as the Florida Panhandle and Appalachian Trail.
Brian Laundrie's parents visit park as items found
Images obtained exclusively by Fox News show Chris and Roberta Laundrie in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park with at least one law enforcement officer on Wednesday.
After days and days of intense searching for Brian, things at the swampy preserve had quieted down and the park even reopened to the public. But officers closed it off again Wednesday morning while the Laundries were there.
FOX News reports that the couple left their North Port home just before 7:15 a.m. and arrived at the park, where two men in hiking gear – including at least one who later identified himself as a law enforcement officer – began trailing behind them. The Laundries and one of the men appeared to discuss a discovery before the parents left the park, which was then closed to media and the public.
The Laundries discovered a white bag and a dark-colored object after traveling through a patch of brambles at the edge of the brush at a clearing. They could be seen putting the object into the bag and handing it over to a law enforcement officer.
Fox News photo
"Chris and Roberta Laundrie went to the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park this morning to search for Brian," family attorney Steven Bertolino later confirmed. "The FBI and NPPD were informed last night of Brian’s parents’ intentions and they met Chris and Roberta there this morning. After a brief search off a trail that Brian frequented some articles belonging to Brian were found. As of now law enforcement is conducting a more thorough investigation of that area."
Cadaver dogs and the medical examiner were then called to the park. The FBI later confirmed that human remains were found in an area that had previously been underwater – not uncommon for the swampy Florida park – along with a notebook and backpack belonging to Laundrie.
A tent was set up at the site where items were found Wednesday.
The coroner will now have to confirm the identity of the remains.
"I know you have a lot of questions, but we don't have all the answers yet," Agent McPherson added, declining to take questions from reporters. "We are working diligently to get those answers for you."
The Laundrie family did not have anything to add after that.
"Chris and Roberta will wait for the forensic identification of the human remains before making any additional comments," Steven Bertolino told FOX 13 News.
Gabby Petito's murder
Gabby was found dead near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, almost a month after she was reported missing by her family.
The couple's journey began in July from Long Island. The goal was to reach Oregon by the end of October, according to their social media accounts. However, Brian returned to his parents home in North Port, Florida on September 1, with the camper van the couple used to road-trip across the country. Gabby also resided there, but was not with him when he came back.
On September 11, Gabby’s family reported her missing, setting off a search that garnered attention from across the country. Police said Brian and his family were refusing to cooperate with the investigation and weren't speaking to authorities.
Since then, it was revealed that a 911 call in Moah, Utah, reported a domestic dispute between Gabby and Brian in the town on August 12.
The 911 call apparently contradicted a prior report written by police in which a responding officer had written that "no one reported that the male struck the female." The witness is heard saying, "the gentleman is slapping the girl."
"He was slapping her?" the dispatcher was heard asking.
"Yes, and then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off," the caller added.
Body camera video from one of the officers responding to the incident was also released. An officer spotted the white Ford Transit van after the report was made, and watched it strike a curb. A traffic stop was initiated. The footage showed an emotional Gabby while she sat in the back of a police cruiser as authorities questioned both.
Officers concluded that Gabby was the "aggressor" after seeing marks on Brian's face and arm. but decided against charging or citing her. An officer told the couple they should separate for the night, and drove Brian to a hotel while Gabby took the van.
Another body camera video from a second law enforcement officer was later released, showing Gabby saying Brian "grabbed me with his nail." When pressed, Gabby seemed to admit that Brian hit her back, but quickly backtracked to take the blame and downplay his role in the fight.
Moab officials have since said they will investigate their officers' response to the incident.
On September 19, the FBI announced human remains matching Gabby's description were found near the Grand Teton National Park. An autopsy confirmed it was Gabby. The camper van the couple used for the trip was spotted August 27 – not far from where her body was found.
A funeral was held one week after her body was found. Her family used an empty urn during the services, which was held in New York.
On Oct. 12, nearly one month since Gabby's remains were found, Dr. Brent Blue, the Teton County, Wyoming Coroner revealed she died by strangulation in a final autopsy report. Dr. Blue said he was not able to reveal how he came to the conclusion that Gabby died by strangulation because Wyoming law prevented him from going into those details. He was not able to say if the method of strangulation was manual or if any item was involved.
He said her remains were likely outside for three to four weeks. He said an exact time of death will not be determined for this case.
MORE: Gabby Petito's cause of death ruled strangulation; body was outside up to 4 weeks, Wyoming coroner says
The day after the coroner's report, Gabby's parents headed to Wyoming to recover her remains.
Brian Laundrie's disappearance
After filing an official missing person's report for Gabby in mid-September, her family and investigators expressed frustration with the family's silence and refusal to speak to detectives.
"We share the frustration with the world," North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said at the time. "Two people went on a trip, and one person returned. That person who returned isn’t providing information."
On Thursday, Sept. 16, police said they knew Brian's location. However, on the following day, Brian's family reported him missing, saying they haven't heard from him since Tuesday, Sept. 14 when he went for a hike, authorities said. It prompted an extensive search of the Carlton Reserve, a 25,000-acre park in Sarasota County. Later on, they backtracked and said they believe he left their home on Monday, Sept. 13.
At one point, Chris Laundrie joined the search to point out Brian's favorite hangouts near the reserve.
FBI agents executed a search warrant at Brian's parents' home the following week. They were seen carrying out cardboard boxes loaded with evidence. A statement from the agency said only that agents were executing a search warrant at the home "relevant to the Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito investigation."
In the days that followed, local, state and federal combed through the Carlton Reserve in search of Brian, but he was nowhere in sight. During that search, he was indicted by the FBI on a federal fraud charge.
Gabby's father, Joseph Petito, said during an interview on the "Dr. Phil" show, that Brian and his daughter had dated for over two years. He said Brian was "always respectful" and the couple took a previous road trip to California. The interview was recorded before Gabby's body was found.
The Laundrie family attorney issued a statement on Monday, Sept. 27 amid speculation that Brian's parents knew their son's location. Attorney Steven Bertolino, the lawyer for Chris and Roberta Laundrie, said his parents were "concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him."
"The speculation by the public and some in the press that the parents assisted Brian in leaving the family home or in avoiding arrest on a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is just wrong."
Later on, it was revealed that the family took Brian camping at Fort De Soto after he returned from the van trip, but according to their attorney, Brian left the campsite with his family.
Brian's mom, Roberta Laundrie on Aug. 24 initially made reservations for two people to camp at Fort De Soto Park Campground in Tierra Verde between Sept. 1-3, about 75 miles north of the family’s home in North Port, but she canceled those reservations on Aug. 31, according to documents obtained by FOX News.
On Sept. 3, she made a new reservation for three people to camp on the weekend of Sept. 6-8. Other documents obtained by Fox News show the Laundries checked in to the campground on Sept. 6 and checked out on Sept. 8.
Steve Bertolino, the Laundrie family attorney, confirmed that Cassie Laundrie met her brother and parents on Sept. 6 at the Fort De Soto Park campsite. However, his comments came after she spoke to ABC News, saying she hadn't been able to talk to her brother.
"And I guess if you're - what's, just kind of as his sister, the oddest thing to you about all this, if you had to?" the interviewer asked, according to a transcript on ABC's website.
"That I haven't been able to talk to him," Cassie Laundrie replied. "I wish I could talk to him."
Cassie Laundrie explained the exchange to the protesters Monday, Oct. 5.
"The media ended up misconstruing what I said when they asked me if I had seen my brother," she said. "Like I said in the beginning, they didn't say have you seen Brian. It was, 'What's the weirdest thing about this all?'"
Some of the biggest questions may remain even after the search for Brian has ended: What exactly did his family know, and when did they know it? And, who strangled Gabby?
- Gabby Petito: Timeline of 22-year-old woman's disappearance, death
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- Brian Laundrie’s former co-worker remembers him as ‘chameleon’ and ‘weirdo’ who sometimes lost temper
- Brian Laundrie manhunt: North Port police conduct 'special response team training while searching'
- Gabby Petito: Grieving parents head to Wyoming to be reunited with daughter's body
- Gabby Petito memorial to be removed as city seeks permanent solution
- Brian Laundrie's survival skills are 'mediocre,' sister Cassie says