The human remains found Wednesday in a Florida nature reserve belong to missing ‘van-lifer’ Brian Laundrie, the FBI confirmed Thursday afternoon—a stunning end to a weeks-long search for a fugitive who was apparently right under investigators’ noses the entire time.
The bombshell news comes five weeks after Laundrie, 23, was last seen leaving his family’s home in nearby North Port in the wake of his fiancee Gabby Petito’s death by strangulation.
Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie family’s attorney, confirmed the report, telling The Daily Beast that Laundrie’s parents were notified that their son is dead.
“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the remains found yesterday are indeed Brian’s,” Bertolino said in a text message. “We have no further comment at this time and we ask that you respect the Laundrie’s privacy at this time.”
Joe Petito, Gabby’s father, was unable to be reached immediately following the news. Laundrie’s family did not respond to requests for comment.
Laundrie had been under intense scrutiny by much of the public and Petito’s family ever since he returned home alone on Sept. 1 from what ostensibly started out as a free-spirited cross-country road trip with Petito.
He offered no explanation as to where Petito was or what had happened to her, setting off alarm bells for Petito’s family, who reported her missing on Sept. 11.
Then, on Sept. 13, Laundrie vanished as well, after telling his family he was going on a hike. Police searched the Carlton Reserve area for weeks but came up empty-handed.
In a strange twist, Laundrie’s parents told the police on Tuesday night that they would be heading to the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park the following morning to search for Brian, Bertolino said.
The FBI and North Port Police met Chris and Roberta Laundrie at the park, which is adjacent to the Carlton Reserve, on Wednesday morning. “After a brief search off a trail that Brian frequented some articles belonging to Brian were found,” Bertolino said.
Human remains were found with a backpack and notebook, all belonging to Laundrie. The area had reportedly been underwater until waters receded recently. (Bertolino denied as “hogwash” any speculation that Laundrie’s parents planted the items.)
Police had publicly deemed Laundrie a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance on Sept. 14, just five days before her body was recovered in a Wyoming national park.
After an autopsy revealed the 22-year-old Petito was the victim of homicide, federal authorities issued a warrant for Laundrie’s arrest, though not for the murder itself. Instead, the warrant stemmed from Laundrie’s alleged use of another person’s bank card and access to a bank account that did not belong to him.
Officials later said Petito was strangled to death. The brutal homicide came just days after the “van-life” couple had been posting happy-go-lucky photos on social media, suggesting they were living it up on their travels and embracing life together on the road.
Little by little, however, the image of the “van-life” couple seen by the public began to take on a much darker tone. After Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11, police in Moab, Utah, released body-cam footage revealing that the couple had been involved in what was dubbed a domestic incident. A 911 call and witness account later revealed that bystanders reported seeing Laundrie “slap” and “hit” Petito, though no charges were ultimately filed.
Cops ultimately came to believe that Petito had been the aggressor, according to a police report The Daily Beast obtained in September. But in the end, the pair told officers that “they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” said the report.
The police separated Petito and Laundrie for the evening and judged the dust-up to have been a “mental/emotional health ‘break’” rather than a domestic assault.
Bertolino previously told The Daily Beast that he advised Laundrie not to cooperate with detectives prior to his disappearance. Laundrie’s parents, who have reportedly received death threats, have also refused to take a polygraph test, according to Bertolino.