Now that the remains of Brian Laundrie have been positively identified by authorities, there are still lingering questions as to why, how and even when he disappeared in the days after his fiancée, Gabby Petito, was reported missing.
His parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, may be vital to unraveling the mysteries. But their recollections of key moments during these critical days – according to their family attorney – have been inconsistent or conflicted with law enforcement authorities’ version of events.
The Laundrie family “has conducted themselves in a very odd way that’s generated a lot of suspicion right from the beginning,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CNN.
The undisputed facts are that Brian Laundrie, 23, and Petito, 22, had been road-tripping in a white van from New York through the US West over the summer, regularly posting photos and stories to their social media pages with the hashtag #vanlife.
Those posts abruptly stopped in late August, and police say Laundrie returned September 1 in the couple’s van without his fiancée to the North Port, Florida, home where he lived with Petito and his parents.
Petito’s family reported her missing September 11, and her body was found September 19 in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. A coroner ruled she died by strangulation.
Inside that nine-day period in September, Laundrie left his family home, and differing accounts have emerged from the Laundrie family attorney and the police about what occurred in a narrow period within that time frame – from September 13 to 17.
Here’s what each says happened during those four days:
When in mid-September did Brian Laundrie leave home?
Laundrie and his family did not immediately speak with police when given the opportunity.
On September 11 – after Petito’s family reported her missing – Laundrie invoked his Fifth Amendment right when police went to the Laundrie home, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told CNN. Invoking the Fifth Amendment means a person cannot be forced to make statements they feel might be negative or used against them.
Investigators were never in the same room as Laundrie after Petito was reported missing, North Port police have said.
Then on September 14, Laundrie said he was going to the nearby Carlton Reserve, the parents told police on September 17, adding they hadn’t seen him since. The reserve is a 25,000-acre nature park near the family’s home, a swampy, forested area known to contain snakes and alligators.
But Laundrie’s parents – “after further communication with the FBI and confirmation of (the family’s car) being at the Laundrie residence on Wednesday September 15” – believed Brian left home on September 13, their family attorney, Steven Bertolino, said October 6.
Laundrie’s father, Chris, went to look for Brian on the night of September 13 after his son didn’t return from the park, Bertolino told CNN.
The next day, September 14, Chris and Roberta Laundrie returned to the area outside the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park to look for him and found the family’s Ford Mustang with an abandoned vehicle notice placed on it, Bertolino said at the time. North Port police confirmed the citation had been placed on the car.
The parents returned the next day, September 15, to retrieve the vehicle.
“Let the record be clear, the Laundries reported Brian did not come home the night he went out for the hike,” Bertolino told CNN Wednesday. “I actually reported that to the FBI, personally.”
After more than a month of searching the reserve, authorities found Laundrie’s remains Wednesday along with personal items, including a backpack and notebook.
Where did police think Brian Laundrie was then?
North Port police had no information Laundrie was missing on September 13 and believed he was at the house, spokesperson Josh Taylor told CNN in a statement Thursday, noting the department was “an assisting agency” in the investigation until the night of September 14.
“We were certainly pressing hard to get information from the family through traditional means,” Taylor’s statement read. “We were working with the best intelligence on what we thought at the time, working with a family who refused to cooperate in the investigation.”
Garrison, the North Port police chief, tried to reach out to Bertolino on Twitter on September 15, Taylor noted Thursday.
“Mr. Steven Bertolino, esq. the @NorthPortPolice needs your help in finding Gabby Petito. Please call us to arrange a conversation with Brian Laundrie. Two people left on a trip and one person returned!” the chief’s tweet read.
The department never got a response from Bertolino, Taylor said.
Garrison held a news conference on September 16. During the briefing, a reporter asked Garrison if he knew where Laundrie was “right now.”
“Yes,” Garrison responded.
On September 17, the FBI called Bertolino to say it had gotten a tip that Laundrie was in Tampa, the attorney said Wednesday. Investigators wanted to know if he was at home. North Port is about 84 miles south of Tampa.
Bertolino asked where the tip came from and accused North Port police of knowing Laundrie’s location, he said.
“I immediately called my clients, and said, ‘Hey? Was Brian picked up? Do you know where he is? Because I don’t know where he is. How did they know where he is, if we don’t?’” Bertolino said.
Police thought Laundrie was at the home until September 17, when Laundrie’s parents finally agreed to speak with police, Taylor said Thursday. North Port police were notified that same day of Laundrie “being potentially missing,” his statement said.
“NPPD, working with the FBI from the onset, did everything within the law, with the information we had, to surveil and collect information,” he wrote.
Laundrie’s parents role in search is under scrutiny
After reporting Petito missing, her family and police publicly pleaded with the Laundrie family to cooperate with authorities.
But Bertolino had advised his clients not to speak with anyone, the lawyer said Wednesday.
“Everybody has the right to remain silent,” he told CNN. “That’s what I told my clients, and that’s what they did.”
Still, experts have found it curious that Chris and Roberta Laundrie participated in the investigation and discovery of their son’s remains.
During a search with police Wednesday at the nature reserve, Laundrie’s father was first to spot an item belonging to his son, Taylor said Thursday. Because he couldn’t find law enforcement when he found the bag and didn’t want to leave it, he picked it up and gave it to investigators, Bertolino said.
“The idea of family members participating in a search and then being the ones actually finding the evidence, and then picking up the evidence and taking it to law enforcement is really quite unusual,” said former senior FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole.
A news camera crew and reporter were within view at the time and said Chris Laundrie finding the bag was “caught on camera,” Bertolino told CNN on Wednesday.
The Laundries’ participation in the investigation of their son’s will be critical, retired FBI profiler Jim Clemente told CNN on Thursday.
“The parents are key to determining how he died,” he said, “and whether or not this was by his own hand or accidental.”