Human remains found in a Florida nature reserve on Wednesday belonged to a man who had been declared a “person of interest” in the murder of his fiancee, the FBI said Thursday, ending a search that had sparked strong national interest .
A comparison of dental records confirmed that the remains, which were found in the Carlton Preserve and adjacent Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in Sarasota County, were those of Brian Laundrie, the FBI said.
The discovery of the remains came seven weeks after Mr Laundrie returned home after a month-long van trip without his fiancee, Gabrielle Petito, and about four weeks after she was found dead in a national forest in the Wyoming.
Yet authorities and Ms Petito’s family members were still searching for answers as to what happened during and after the couple’s trip across the country, as Ms Petito, 22, and Mr Laundrie, 23 , have recounted at length on social networks.
Michael F. McPherson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Tampa, said Wednesday that authorities found a notebook and backpack that belonged to Mr. Laundrie near the remains of the heavily forested Myakkahatchee Park, 160 acres park in North Port, Florida.
The park is connected to the Carlton reserve, a 24,565 acres wildlife refuge, where authorities had been looking for Mr. Laundrie for weeks. The objects were found in an area that until recently was underwater, McPherson said.
“I know you have a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers yet,” McPherson said at a press conference Wednesday, in which he did not answer questions. “We are working diligently to get those answers for you. “
The identification of Mr Laundrie’s remains came after Ms Petito’s body was found in September in the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
A coroner determined that Ms. Petito’s death was homicide and the cause was strangulation. Coroner Dr Brent Blue of Teton County, Wyo., Said his body had been outside for three to four weeks before it was found on September 19.
Mr Laundrie’s items and his remains were found after his parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, informed the FBI and police on Tuesday night that they intended to come to the park on Wednesday morning to search for their son, l family lawyer Steven Bertolino said in a statement.
After a brief search off a trail frequented by Mr Laundrie, family and law enforcement found “certain items” belonging to him, Mr Bertolino said. The discovery prompted a “further investigation of this area” by law enforcement.
“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the remains found yesterday on the reserve are those of Brian,” Bertolino said in a statement Thursday. “We have no further comments at this time and please respect the privacy of the laundries at this time.”
Richard Stafford, an attorney for the Petito family, said the family did not immediately comment.
“They are mourning the loss of their beautiful daughter,” Stafford said Thursday. “Gabby’s family will make a statement at the appropriate time and when they are emotionally ready.”
Ms Petito left with Mr Laundrie from New York in July in a white Ford pickup truck equipped with a bed and other necessities to visit the national parks and nomadic journeys they called “Van Life.”
On September 1, Mr. Laundrie returned to the North Port, Florida home where he and Ms. Petito were living. He went there, alone, in the van, which had been registered in Ms. Petito’s name.
Ten days later, Ms. Petito’s family reported her missing. The search for her quickly involved FBI and National Park rangers and spanned at least two states. Through a lawyer, Mr. Laundrie had refused to speak to investigators, according to police, who described him as a “person of interest” and not as a suspect.
Then, six days after Ms Petito went missing, Mr Laundrie’s parents told police they had not seen him for several days, starting a second search for a missing person. Authorities began to search the Carlton Reserve, and the FBI served a search warrant on Laundrie’s residence.
The search for Gabby Petito
On September 11, Gabrielle Petito’s family reported her missing. She appeared to have disappeared on a trip across the country with her fiance, Brian Laundrie. His remains were found in Wyoming on September 19.
A federal arrest warrant was then unsealed against Mr Laundrie in Wyoming, accusing him of debit card fraud after authorities said he illegally used a Capital One bank debit card in late August. Authorities did not say whether the debit card belonged to Ms Petito.
As Ms Petito’s family and police appealed to the public for help, the case attracted widespread attention on social media, including from some who scrutinized the couple’s cheerful Instagram posts and others who criticized the lack of similar attention to cases of missing women of Color.
On August 12, Moab, Utah, police responded to a report of a “domestic problem” between the couple, according to a police report. He said that Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito were having “kind of an argument”.
The report said he told her to go for a walk and calm down, and that both Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito told the police they were in love, engaged and “did not desperately want to see anyone charged with a crime.” , the report said.
Mr Laundrie told an officer that “the problems between the two have built up over the past few days,” he said.
Body camera images shows that during the meeting Ms Petito cried and said she suffered from anxiety. In the police report, Ms Petito said she decided to slap Mr Laundrie because she feared he would “leave her in Moab without driving her”.
Both told police the episode should be classified as a “mental / emotional health break” and not a domestic assault, according to the report.
Police described Mr. Laundrie in the report as the victim of the incident. They arranged for him to stay in a hotel that night while Ms. Petito guarded the van. No charges have been filed, according to the report.
Alan Yu contributed reporting.