Gabby Petito case: Police admit key mistakes that muddy the water

North Port, Florida – Several days after Brian Laundrie's remains were found and confirmed, the North Port Police Department admitted they made several key mistakes in their investigation. Here's what we know.

The North Port Police Department owned up to a key surveillance mistake in the early days of their investigation into the disappearance of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.
The North Port Police Department owned up to a key surveillance mistake in the early days of their investigation into the disappearance of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.  © Collage: IMAGO/ZUMA Press

As the search for Brian Laundrie, the sole person of interest in the murder of Gabby Petito (22), has come to an end, law enforcement is beginning to share more information with the public.

Four days after the medical examiner confirmed the remains found were Brian's, the spokesperson for the North Port Police Department Josh Taylor said they made a significant mistake during the week of his disappearance.

According to Taylor, law enforcement misidentified Roberta Laundrie as her son Brian when she returned home in his abandoned Ford Mustang on September 15, saying they were "kind of built similarly."

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"They had returned from the park with that Mustang. So who does that? Right? Like, if you think your son’s missing since Tuesday, you’re going to bring his car back to the home. So it didn’t make sense that anyone would do that if he wasn’t there. So the individual getting out with a baseball cap, we thought was Brian," Taylor told WINK News on Monday.

On October 22, NewsNation reporter Brian Entin shared a video on Twitter showcasing numerous surveillance cameras North Port PD installed at various neighbors' houses pointed towards the Laundries' home prior to Brian's departure for the reserve.

If law enforcement had eyes on Brian via surveillance cameras, how could they have missed him leave in the first place?

Police surveillance gone wrong

Marissa Zdazinsky reads signs posted in front of the Laundrie family home in North Port, Florida on October 20.
Marissa Zdazinsky reads signs posted in front of the Laundrie family home in North Port, Florida on October 20.  © IMAGO/NurPhoto

This case of mistaken identity might explain why North Port PD Chief Todd Garrison seemed entirely certain that he knew Brian's location at a press conference on September 16.

However, it still doesn't explain how Brian left the home seemingly undetected by law enforcement to begin with.

Given that the remains found of Brian's were skeletal, it's possible the 23-year-old had been deceased for quite some time prior to the discovery on October 20.

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This is one of the few things that Taylor and the Laundrie family attorney Steve Bertolino have agreed upon.

According to WFLA, Taylor said, "Other than confusion, it likely changed nothing. There is a very good possibility that Brian was already deceased," to which Bertolino later responded, "I concur with Mr. Taylor that Brian may have already been deceased when [North Port Police Department] realized that they 'lost track' of him."

But their mutual agreement seems to end there. When he spoke with WFLA on Tuesday, Taylor cast blame on the Laundrie family for the disappearance of their son, calling the mishap, "A direct result of a lack of cooperation from the family early on in this investigation."

As one might expect, Bertolino refuted this claim, telling JB Biunno, "You can’t blame the family because the police didn’t know enough to follow someone they were obviously surveilling."

Bertolino has said on countless occasions that he personally reached out to the FBI on September 13 when Brian failed to return home from the Carlton Reserve.

Yet, North Port PD continues to claim they were not notified that Brian was missing until his parents filed a missing person report with the department on September 17 – roughly four days later.

Where does the investigation go next?

Tampa FBI Agent Michael McPherson (l.) with North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison (r.) hold a press conference at Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on October 20.
Tampa FBI Agent Michael McPherson (l.) with North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison (r.) hold a press conference at Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on October 20.  © IMAGO/NurPhoto

It's critical to note that at the time Brian left for the Carlton Reserve on September 13, he had not yet been named a person of interest in Petito's disappearance.

It wasn't until September 15 that Brian was named a person of interest – the same day Roberta Laundrie was mistaken as her son by North Port PD.

Petito's remains were not located until September 19, which were confirmed as hers by the Teton County Coroner on September 21. Her cause of death was ruled as a homicide, with the manner being manual strangulation.

Given that the case is still ongoing, the FBI has yet to comment on any timelines of events or matters about the case outside the announcement that dental records confirmed the remains found to be Brian's.

The autopsy results came back inconclusive, and the remains are now in the hands of an anthropologist for further evaluation.

According to JB Biunno, North Port PD confirmed that DNA samples have not yet been collected from Brian's remains, but will be once the anthropologist has concluded his examination.

The Petito family has remained relatively silent since the discovery of his remains, but WFLA reported they issued one statement about the matter through their attorney, Rick Stafford.

"They are grieving the loss of their beautiful daughter." He continued, "Gabby’s family will make a statement at the appropriate time and when they are emotionally ready," Stafford said.

Meanwhile, Chis and Roberta Laundrie took a family trip out of North Port, Florida to grieve privately, according to Bertolino, and returned on Tuesday afternoon.

In June, the young couple had embarked on a "van life" road trip across the US, until Laundrie returned home in the van – without Petito – and refused to speak to law enforcement regarding his fiancé's whereabouts.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/ZUMA Press

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