Authorities are bracing for the likelihood that the search for Brian Laundrie might end right where it started: near the entrance to a sprawling Florida nature reserve where the missing man disappeared more than one month ago.
The FBI confirmed Wednesday afternoon that human remains turned up near Sarasota County, Florida’s Carlton Reserve, a 24,565-acre natural preserve described as a “vast and unforgiving” terrain where Laundrie set out on a hike last month.
“Earlier today, investigators found what appears to be human remains along with personal items, such as a backpack and notebook, belonging to Brian Laundrie,” said Michael McPherson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office. “These items were found in an area that up until recently had been underwater. Our evidence response team is on scene using all available forensic resources to process the area. It’s likely the team will be on scene for several days. I know you have a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers yet. We are working diligently to get those answers for you.”
The FBI said it would not provide additional comment until the investigation yielded more clues.
“Complex investigations such as this cannot be accomplished by one agency alone,” McPherson said while thanking state and local partners in the case.
“Justice for Gabby!” a collection of protesters started screaming immediately as McPherson concluded his brief statement.
The remains were discovered near the entrance to the Myakkahatchee Environmental Park and near where Laundrie’s Ford Mustang convertible was discovered abandoned on Sept. 14, Tampa, Fla. NBC affiliate WFLA-TV reported. The television station said that some law enforcement activity was also occurring at the adjacent Carlton Reserve.
The Carlton Reserve and the Myakkahatchee Environmental Park will remain closed to the public while the search continues, Special Agent McPherson said.
“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,” Steve Bertolino, a lawyer for Brian Laundrie’s parents, told Law&Crime Wednesday evening. “Chris and Roberta will wait for the forensic identification of the human remains before making any additional comments.”
Laundrie was a person of interest in the disappearance of his fiancée Gabby Petito.
In mid-June, Petito and Laundrie set out on a road trip to Utah which they broadcast to YouTube under the title “VAN LIFE: Beginning Our Van Life Journey.” On August 12, the couple was captured on body camera video by authorities in Moab, Utah, after a suspected domestic dispute.
Bertolino, the lawyer for Laundrie’s parents, told the Law&Crime Network earlier this month that Brian flew from Salt Lake City to Tampa to join his family on Aug. 17. The attorney said Brian flew back to Salt Lake City on Aug. 23 to rejoin Gabby.
“To my knowledge, Brian and Gabby paid for the flights as they were sharing expenses,” Bertolino said at the time. “Brian flew home to obtain some items and empty and close the storage unit to save money as they contemplated extending the road trip.”
Petito’s family said they last heard from her during the last week of August.
Two individuals said they found Laundrie hitchhiking on Aug. 29. The second person said she dropped Laundrie off at the gates to the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area — right where Petito’s remains were found weeks later.
Laundrie returned to Florida without Petito on Sept. 1, and Petito’s family reported Gabby missing some 10 days later. Internet sleuths quickly scavanged every corner of the influencer couple’s social media feed for clues.
Laundrie’s parents initially reported their son missing on Sept. 17, telling authorities that they had last seen their on son Sept. 14. They later adjusted the timeline to state that Laundrie went on his hike a day earlier: Sept. 13.
Federal and state authorities quickly responded with a weeks-long search for Laundrie. On Sept. 21, authorities confirmed that a body found in Wyoming’s Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area was Petito’s; a medical examiner ruled the young woman’s death a homicide. Two days later, a federal judge in that state issued an arrest warrant for Laundrie — though not for Petito’s death. An unsealed indictment revealed that a grand jury accused the 23-year-old of racking up more than $1,000 in unauthorized charges on a Capital One debit card. The charges were accrued between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1. Authorities did not state that the card was Petito’s, but Richard Stafford, the Petito family’s attorney, alleged in a Fox News interview that Laundrie stole the 22-year-old’s credit card and then ran from police.
Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue eventually determined that Petito’s cause of death was strangulation.
Amid the movement in the investigation in Wyoming, the search for Laundrie seemingly stalled. The North Port, Fla. Police Department provided the press and public of a steady stream of dispatches from their search of the Carlton Reserve.
“This is dangerous work for the search crews as they are wading through gator and snake infested swamps and flooded hiking and biking trails,” North Port Police previously said in a statement.
For several days, that agency posted updates of their excursions daily on YouTube, describing to reporters about how they used dogs, swamp buggies, drones, and other tools in an attempt to find Laundrie. A possible breakthrough in the hunt occurred on Oct. 6, as reporters noted increasing police activity around the reserve and disseminated drone footage from the area.
The search quieted until Wednesday, Oct. 20.
Early in the day, FOX News broadcast video of Laundrie’s parents discussing the possible discovery of evidence with a law enforcement officer.
“Chris and Roberta Laundrie went to the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park this morning to search for Brian,” Bertolino, the Laundrie family attorney, told Law&Crime’s Angenette Levy as the search unfolded. “The FBI and NPPD [North Port Police Department] 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.”
Bertolino said “no comment” when asked earlier Wednesday if a body had been found.
A law enforcement search involving multiple tents, police tape, and search dogs ensued.
Representatives from the Sarasota County, Fla. Medical Examiner’s Office told Law&Crime earlier Wednesday afternoon that they were called to an area near the Carlton Reserve — but they did not directly confirm the call was related to Laundrie. A mobile command center from the Lee County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office arrived at the scene shortly later; vehicles marked for the Pasco County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office were also on hand.
Watch the FBI press conference below via WFLA-TV:
Editor’s note: this piece has been updated to include comments from Laundrie lawyer Steve Bertolino on Wednesday evening.
[Featured image of Brian Laundrie via Moab, Utah police body camera video]
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