The claim: Brian Laundrie's DNA doesn't match the skull found in Carlton Reserve
The highly publicized hunt for the sole person of interest in Gabby Petito's murder case came to an end for law enforcement on Oct. 21, when the FBI announced they had identified human remains found at Florida's Carlton Reserve as those of Brian Laundrie, based on dental records.
But some social media sleuths aren't convinced.
An Oct. 25 Facebook post claiming the human remains found in the nature preserve were definitively not Laundrie's was shared over 90,000 times in less than eight hours, and over 150,000 times by Oct. 28.
"LAUNDRIE'S DNA DOES NOT MATCH SKULL FOUND," the Skyline News post, accompanied by a photo bearing this message, begins. The post came soon after lawyer Steven Bertolino's announcement on Oct. 25 that an initial autopsy of the remains did not reveal the cause of Laundrie's death.
However, it was impossible for Skyline News to know the results of a DNA analysis on Oct. 25. Police and the District 12 Medical Examiner, addressing the rumor, announced on Oct. 26 that DNA testing hadn't occurred yet.
Autopsy experts told USA TODAY that it's unlikely the dental record identification is wrong in this case.
USA TODAY reached out to Skyline News for comment.
DNA analysis not yet complete
Police called the claim that Laundrie's DNA didn't match the remains found on Oct. 20 a "false report." DNA samples from the remains had not even been sent out for testing on the date that the post was made, the District 12 Medical Examiner said in a statement on Oct. 26.
"No DNA analysis has yet been performed on the remains," says the statement, released by the North Port Police Department. "Samples will be submitted for DNA testing once the examination of the remains by the medical examiner's office is complete."
Though the Facebook post cited Fox News reporter Nancy Grace for its claim that Laundrie's DNA did not match the skull found, she did not report results of a DNA analysis in the episode of "Crime Stories with Nancy Grace" linked in the post. She only said there was "no DNA match."
Dental records used for ID
Laundrie's remains were identified through dental record comparison, also known as odontology, on Oct. 21. The Facebook post questions the legitimacy of the identification, but two forensic pathology experts say it's unlikely the dental record analysis falsely identified the man.
Odontology is more robust than many people realize, Dr. Darin Wolfe, a board-certified forensic pathologist who has used YouTube and TikTok to address autopsy-related questions about cases like Laundrie’s, told USA TODAY.
"Every single person's oral cavity, skull and jaw structure features subtleties that are unique to the individual, and this is why dental identification is so specific," he wrote USA TODAY in an email. "It is unlikely that this is a case of misidentification."
According to Wolfe, it's a common misconception that dental record identification only uses dental chart notes, or that it is done on loose teeth. Generally, a positive identification requires a forensic dentist to compare "skull and jaw fragments found with teeth in place" from the remains to dental X-rays taken during Laundrie's life, as well as other dental records, Wolfe said.
Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist who has been involved in many high-profile cases, said he sees the dental record analysis as reliable in this case.
"Based upon what they’ve said and what they’ve released, I see no rational, legitimate purpose to question the identity, the identification process," Wecht told USA TODAY in a phone interview.
However, Wecht said, DNA analysis is "the only absolute science in forensic science," because it is not possible for two people to share the same DNA.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Brian Laundrie's DNA doesn't match the skull found in Carlton Reserve. No DNA analysis had been conducted on the remains at the time the claim was posted, according to the District 12 Medical Examiner, so we can't yet know whether the DNA matches. However, the FBI has identified the remains as Laundrie's using dental records.
Our fact-check sources:
Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, Oct. 27, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Dr. Darin L. Wolfe, Oct. 27, Email interview with USA TODAY
North Port Police Department, Oct. 26, Tweet
FBI Denver, Oct. 21, Tweet
American Board of Forensic Odontology, February 2017, Body Identification Information & Guidelines
Camille Epstein (@imsdac), Oct. 26, Tweet
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Internet sleuths spread falsehood about Laundrie DNA