The FBI said Wednesday that apparent human remains were found near the vast Florida nature preserve where officials have been searching for Brian Laundrie, the 23-year-old fiancé of Gabby Petito and the only person of interest in her death.
The remains were found near the 24,565-acre Carlton Reserve, where Laundrie’s parents told police they believed he was headed when they reported him missing last month.
They were found in an area that was until recently was under water, the FBI said. It's unclear whether the remains belong to Laundrie.
"Earlier today, investigators found what appears to be human remains as well as personal items such as a backpack and notebook belonging to Brian Laundrie," Michael McPherson, special agent in charge of the FBI's Tampa Field Office, told reporters. "These items were found in an area that up until recently had been under water. 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."
Earlier Wednesday, NBC News reported that items belonging to Laundrie were discovered along a trail in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, which is adjacent to Carlton Reserve. The Sarasota County Medical Examiner's Office and a cadaver dog from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office were called in to assist in the investigation.
Steven Bertolino, an attorney for Laundrie's family, said his parents went to the park to search for their son on Wednesday morning, and met with North Port police and the FBI.
“Chris and Roberta Laundrie went to the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park this morning to search for Brian," Bertolino said in a statement. "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 of 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.”
In a subsequent statement, the FBI confirmed that “items of interest were located” in connection with the search for Laundrie and that investigators were processing the scene.
Laundrie’s parents reported him missing on Sept. 17, two days before Petito’s body was found near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
An autopsy was conducted by the Teton County Coroner’s Office, which concluded that the 22-year-old’s death was homicide caused by strangulation.
The case has garnered widespread national media attention — as well as criticism of news outlets for not covering similar cases involving people of color.
It has also drawn intense interest on social media, with online sleuths scouring the couple’s Instagram posts for potential clues.
There had been unconfirmed sightings of Laundrie along the Appalachian Trail, in Canada and in Mexico. TV personalities, including Duane Chapman — known as Dog the Bounty Hunter — and longtime “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh, had joined in the search.
Petito and Laundrie had spent months visiting national parks in their converted 2012 Ford Transit van, documenting the trip on social media.
The couple was stopped Aug. 12 by police in Moab, Utah, after they had a physical altercation, but no charges were filed.
On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to the couple’s North Port home, where they lived with Laundrie’s parents — without her. Petito’s parents, who live on Long Island, said they lost contact with her in late August and reported her missing on Sept. 11.
Petito’s family had issued public pleas for Laundrie’s parents to cooperate with authorities. Police say the Laundries initially did not share “any helpful details” in the search for Petito or their son.
In an interview with “60 Minutes Australia” that aired this past weekend, Petito's mother, Nicole Schmidt, said their “silence speaks volumes.”
Asked what she wanted to see happen to Brian Laundrie, Schmidt said: “He's a coward. … He knows what he is doing. He knew what he was doing. I just want to get him in a cell for the rest of his life.”
Additional reporting by Christopher Wilson.
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