Gabby Petito case: Remains found in Florida park identified as Brian Laundrie, FBI says

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NORTH PORT, Fla. — The human remains found in a Florida wilderness park this week have been identified as Brian Laundrie, according to the FBI, ending the weeks long search for the missing fiance of murder victim Gabby Petito.

The bureau said in a statement the remains were identified using dental records. Authorities had turned to experts in analyzing skeletons and bones because the human remains found in the park were bones and not flesh, North Port Police Department spokesman Josh Taylor told the Sarasota Herald Tribune, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Earlier Thursday, the Laundrie family lawyer said the family was "heartbroken" after the discovery human remains and items that apparently belonged to him in the park,.

"It's quite sad, you can imagine as a parent, finding your son's belonging alongside the remains," lawyer Steven Bertolino told CNN. "That's got to be heartbreaking. And I can tell you that they are heartbroken."

Late Wednesday, the FBI announced the discovery in a park with trails that connect to the sprawling Carlton Reserve. Laundrie has been named a person of interest in Petito's death.

Law enforcement officials had searched the area for weeks, but FBI Tampa special agent Michael McPherson said the backpack, notebook and remains were found in an area that had been underwater. McPherson had said investigators would be on the scene for several days.

"I know you have a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers yet,” McPherson said Wednesday. “We are working diligently to get those answers for you.”

Just a day after reopening Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, investigators again closed the park to the public Thursday. Marked and unmarked police vehicles rolled into the park.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno lauded local authorities and the FBI, who he said had been searching in sometimes chest-high water infested with snakes and alligators.

"These are very, very difficult conditions," Marceno said Thursday. "You're searching in areas that you just can't walk up and look. It's not like you're searching a house or a car. These areas are huge, and they're covered by water."

Laundrie disappeared days before Petito's body was found

Laundrie left his home on Sept. 13 for a hike in the Carlton Reserve, nearly 25,000 acres of land in southern Sarasota County, and never returned, his family says. Laundrie's car was found days later at the Myakkahatchee park. For five weeks, law enforcement had combed through the area but found nothing.

Laundrie's parents told the FBI and the North Port Police Department on Tuesday night that they intended to search the park Wednesday morning, Bertolino said. Law enforcement met them there.

Petito's death: Gabby Petito died by strangulation 'three to four weeks' before body was found, Wyoming coroner says

Laundrie's father found his son's bag

The parents walked the trail with law enforcement personnel nearby when Chris Laundrie ventured off the trail "zigzagging in different areas" and found a white bag in some brambles, Bertolino told CNN. Chris Laundrie then found law enforcement officers – who had discovered found a backpack and remains, Bertolino said.

Bertolino dismissed as "hogwash" a suggestion that Chris Laundrie had planted the dry bag. He said the parents simply decided to walk the park Wednesday because it was the first day it was reopened to the public.

"The parents had assumed that the experts, the FBI and all the tracking teams they had would be able to locate Brian based upon the information that we had provided them to the specific areas and trails in the park that Brian liked to visit," Bertolino told CNN. "The park had been closed to the public. There was really no other reason for the Laundries to go search anywhere else."

Dental records used to ID remains as Brian Laundrie

FBI officials noted that the area where Laundrie’s belongings were discovered had previously been underwater.

Laundrie likely faced a significant amount of rainfall when his parents said he entered the park, WeatherTiger chief meteorologist Ryan Truchelut said. September and October are the transition months between the summer wet season and the fall dry season in the Sarasota area of Florida

If Laundrie entered the preserve on Sept. 13, his first week in the wild was met with "around 3 inches of rain," according to Truchelut. That week also was cloudy and less hot than normal, with highs in the mid to upper 80s, Truchelut added.

He also added that temperatures have been above normal due to limited cloud cover. Most days have seen highs in the lower 90s since Sept. 20.

By the time law enforcement and Laundrie's family found his belongings and body, all that was left was mostly bones and skeletal remains, according to North Port Police Department spokesman Josh Taylor.

Experts who specialize in analyzing skeletons and bones were brought in to help law enforcement with identifying the remains and the FBI said dental records ultimately showed they belonged to Laundrie.

Petito's body found in Wyoming

Petito and Laundrie had been high school sweethearts on New York's Long Island. They left from Long Island in July on a months-long tour of national parks and other sites, bound for Oregon, occasionally posting happy social media photos and stories along the way. Laundrie returned to his parents' house in Florida, where he had been living with Petito, alone Sept. 1. Ten days later, Petito's parents filed a missing persons report after not hearing from her since late August.

Petito's body was found Sept. 19 near a campground in Wyoming. Teton County Coroner Brent Blue ruled Petito's death a homicide by strangulation, saying and said Petito's body had been "outside in the wilderness for three to four weeks" before it was found.

Laundrie is the sole person of interest in Petito's death. He has not been charged in Petito's death, but he does face charges of unauthorized use of a debit card and several accounts involving more than $1,000. The documents do not state to whom the cards or accounts belong to.

The indictment also charges Laundrie with unauthorized access of a device and says he used the bank accounts without permission from about Aug. 30 through Sept. 1.

Domestic trouble: Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie and the tragedy of domestic violence

Signs of a troubled relationship emerged

After Petito's disappearance, police video emerged of problems that suggested problems between the couple, and officers at one point separated Petito and Laundrie for a night after a domestic dispute had turned physical.

In Utah, the Grand County sheriff's office released a 911 call from Aug. 12 in which the caller says he drove by the couple's van and witnessed that "the gentleman was slapping the girl."

Red flags: Gabby Petito was strangled. Experts say such an assault is a red flag for intimate partner homicides.

Body camera video showed Petito in tears during a police stop on the side of a highway near Arches National Park in Utah. The footage shows a police officer speaking with Laundrie, who said friction had been building between the two for several days. , though Authorities at the scene took no action other than telling the couple to separate for the night.

Gov. DeSantis speaks about case

Gov. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, asked about the Petito case at an unrelated news conference Thursday, said he spoke to Petito's father on Wednesday.

“He feels really strongly that there is more that can be done to protect people like Gabby who are victims of domestic violence. … He’s working hard on stuff,” DeSantis said, adding that Petito may assist with charitable endeavors.

“He’s a strong fella," DeSantis said. "The worse blow in life you can receive is to lose a child." DeSantis said.

Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia. Hayes reported from Los Angeles, Calif.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brian Laundrie: Human remains in Florida park identified by FBI

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