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The search for answers: Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 7:22 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - It has been nearly a month since the world stopped asking, “Where is Brian Laundrie?”

Laundrie was the fiance of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, who was found dead at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming in September. Her death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy report revealed she was manually strangled.

As weeks continue to pass, the mystery of what happened is still there. We are pressing for answers, but right now, details are few and far between.

The FBI is leading the investigation; agents haven’t released how Brian died or who killed Gabby.

ABC7 reporter Daniela Hurtado got an in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at the grueling and exhausting search for Brian. This tragedy is sparking serious conversations on missing people across the Suncoast and the country.

The long days of searching for Laundrie quickly turned into weeks. “The amount of time that it took... It was tiring,” said North Port Police Commander Joe Fussell.

“I think with every day there was the hope of maybe we’ll find something ... Some remains ... a shoe, a hat, a backpack. Whatever that case may be, I think that was definitely something driving it,” said North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor.

The search brought a few challenges for authorities. Officers felt their intelligence they had received, bringing them to the 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve, was right. Flooded trails made the task at hand a lot more difficult.

“They’re flying the drones and then they discover there’s a 12-foot alligator five feet away from them,” said Fussell.

Every day of the grueling search was filled with challenges.

“A lot of poisonous snakes out there,” said Fussell, who helped lead the searches.

“Our staff -- we stretched them as much as we could to search that area and it took time. So hearing some of the pushback was a little frustrating,” said Fussell.

We’re now getting a better insight into what officers went through. “There was a lot of thought about finding him potentially deceased and finding that needle in the haystack,” said Taylor.

Armchair investigators judged their reasoning for going back to search the reserve daily.

“We knew we were out there for the right reasons and the intelligence brought us out there,” said Fussell.

After more than a month, crews found Brian dead.

“The day that they were found it was starting to look good very quickly that we were potentially coming to an end here,” said Taylor.

The medical examiner was able to identify the pile of bones through dental records.

Brian’s remains were found the same day the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park re-opened after flooding receded. Laundrie’s parents showed up at the park to search for their son, with the FBI and police officers meeting them there.

After weeks of searching, the day Brian Laundrie was found has created speculation by many across the nation.

“Well, everything about this case has been odd, so it kind of fits right in,” said Taylor.

Odd, but he says not far-fetched. “That area that he was ultimately found in was searched with airboats just weeks before so there was no way you were going to find this stuff prior to the water going down,” said Taylor.

And remember the cadaver dogs?

“They did hit on things throughout … I guess the scent can travel across the water,” said Taylor.

A lot of things remain unanswered on how Laundrie died or what was inside a bookbag and notebook found near the remains.

“I think that there’s enough information that’s been gathered that will paint a very clear picture of what happened,” said Taylor.

North Port Police cannot say what they found; it’s all in the hands of the FBI.

On Monday, we followed up with Chris and Roberta Laundrie’s attorney, Steven Bertolino. He tells ABC7 that Brian Laundrie’s remains haven’t been turned over to his family. Bertolino says they have not been notified of a cause of death.

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