The FBI confirmed Thursday that it had found the remains of Brian Laundrie near a Florida nature preserve, bringing a grim end to the weeks-long manhunt for the 23-year-old fiancé of Gabby Petito and the only person of interest in her death.
The case has garnered widespread national media attention — as well as criticism of news outlets for not covering similar cases involving people of color.
Below is a timeline of how we got here:
July 2, 2020
Gabby Petito announces her engagement to Brian Laundrie on Instagram. The couple met in high school on Long Island.
July 2, 2021
The couple departs Petito’s hometown of Blue Point, N.Y., on a planned four-month cross-country journey in her white 2012 Ford Transit van, documenting the trip on social media.
According to Petito family attorney Richard Stafford, the pair had postponed their wedding plans because of the coronavirus pandemic and decided to take a road trip instead.
Per Petito’s Instagram posts, the couple makes stops in Monument Rock in Kansas; Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado; Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mystic Hot Springs and Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
Police in Moab, Utah, pull the young couple’s van over near Arches National Park following a report of a domestic problem between the pair outside a natural food store.
Body camera footage shows Laundrie with scratches on his face and a visibly distraught Petito wiping away tears while speaking to one officer.
“I’m sorry,” she tells the officer. “We’ve just been fighting this morning. Some personal issues.”
According to audio from a 911 call, a witness tells police that he saw Laundrie slap Petito multiple times in the parking lot of the store.
After questioning the couple separately for more than an hour, officers conclude that Petito was the aggressor in the incident, but decline to charge either of them.
“I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,” the officers conclude in their report.
They instead decide to separate the couple for the night. Laundrie is taken to a motel and Petito is allowed to stay in the van. The pair reunite soon after and continue on their trip.
A National Park Service ranger who also responded to the call later says she warned Petito that her relationship with Laundrie was “toxic.”
“I was imploring her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” ranger Melissa Hulls tells the Deseret News in September.
The city of Moab launches an independent investigation into the police department’s handling of the incident.
Laundrie flies home to Florida from Salt Lake City in order to obtain some items and empty a storage unit to “save money, as they contemplated extending the road trip,” according to Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino.
An eight-minute video, titled “Beginning Our Van Life Journey,” is posted to the couple’s YouTube page.
Laundrie flies back to Salt Lake City to rejoin Petito, according to Bertolino.
Petito FaceTimes with her mother, Nichole Schmidt, and tells her she is leaving Utah and heading to Wyoming.
A photo posted to Petito's Instagram page shows her smiling and holding a knit pumpkin in front of a butterfly mural. It is the last post made on her account.
A Louisiana couple vacationing in Wyoming say they saw Petito and Laundrie involved in an argument as they were leaving a restaurant in Jackson Hole. Nina Angelo, who was at the restaurant with her boyfriend, says in an Instagram post that Petito was in tears and Laundrie was visibly angry, going in and out of the restaurant several times and showing anger toward the staff around the hostess stand.
Schmidt, Petito's mother, says she receives an “odd” text message from her daughter, and is unsure if it was her daughter who actually sent it. The message reads: “Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.” Stan is Petito’s grandfather, but according to Schmidt, she never calls him by his first name.
Another couple say they saw Laundrie hitchhiking in Wyoming and gave him a ride. In a series of videos posted on TikTok, Miranda Baker says she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie, who told them he had been camping alone along the Snake River outside Grand Teton National Park while Petito was back at the van working on social media posts. Baker says that once Laundrie found out she and her boyfriend were going to Jackson Hole instead of Jackson, he got agitated, asked that the vehicle stop and got out near the Jackson Dam.
Schmidt says she receives another text from her daughter’s phone that reads “no service in yosemite.” It is the last text Schmidt receives from her phone.
Laundrie returns to North Port, Fla., where the couple had been living with his parents, in Petito’s van without her.
Petito’s parents report her missing to police in Suffolk County, N.Y.
Laundrie is officially named a person of interest in Petito's disappearance by North Port police, who say he is not cooperating with investigators.
At a press conference with police in North Port, Petito’s father issues a plea asking for the public’s help in finding his daughter.
“What I need from everybody here is help, because the goal is still not met. And that goal is to bring Gabby home safe,” Joe Petito says. “There is nothing else that matters to me now."
At the same press conference, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison is asked by a reporter if he knows where Laundrie was.
“Yes,” Garrison replies. (A spokesperson for the North Port Police Department later says that officers believed Laundrie was at his North Port residence at the time.)
At a separate press conference, Stafford, the lawyer for the Petito family, reads aloud a letter to Laundrie’s parents in which the Petitos urge them to help find their daughter.
“We understand that you are going through a difficult time and that your instinct is strong to protect your son,” the letter reads. “We ask you to put yourself in our shoes. We haven’t been able to sleep or eat and our lives are falling apart.”
Laundrie’s parents report him missing, telling police they last saw him on Sept. 14, when he left their home to go hiking in the nearby Carlton Reserve, a 24,565-acre nature preserve in Sarasota County.
Authorities begin scouring the vast reserve, using drones, boats, ATVs and search dogs. Meanwhile, in Wyoming, a ground search for Petito continues in the mountainous area where her family believes she was last seen.
A body is found in the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area, near Grand Teton National Park.
FBI agents execute a search warrant and remove evidence from the Laundries’ home.
A coroner in Wyoming confirms that the body is that of Petito. Teton County Coroner Brent Blue, who conducted a preliminary autopsy on Petito’s body, initially rules that the manner of death was homicide.
A federal arrest warrant is issued for Laundrie, charging him with unauthorized use of a Capital One debit card and several bank accounts belonging to Petito from about Aug. 30 through Sept. 1.
“While this warrant allows law enforcement to arrest Mr. Laundrie, the FBI and our partners across the country continue to investigate the facts and circumstances of Ms. Petito’s homicide,” FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider says in a statement.
Funeral services for Petito are held in Holbrook, N.Y., where family, friends and strangers gather to mourn the 22-year-old’s death. Her father, Joe, tells those in attendance that his daughter “touched the world.”
“When you leave here today, be inspired by what she brought to the table, because the entire planet knows this woman’s name now. And she’s inspired a lot of women and a lot of men to do what’s best for them first,” he says. “Put yourself first and do it now while you have the time. I couldn't be more proud as a father.”
Her stepfather, Jim Schmidt, offers a similar message: “It’s OK to mourn for Gabby, and it’s OK to feel sorrow and pain. But we want to celebrate her and how she lived her life.”
At a press conference in Bohemia, N.Y., Stafford, the lawyer for the Petito family, says they have no reason to believe that Laundrie's parents will help authorities find him.
“The Laundries did not help us find Gabby,” Stafford says. “They’re sure as not going to help us find Brian.”
He also urges Laundrie to turn himself in.
Brent Blue, the Teton County coroner, announces that Petito’s death was caused by strangulation. Blue initially ruled the manner of death a homicide pending final autopsy results.
“After a detailed investigation by our forensic pathologist, our anthropologist and local law enforcement, with assistance from the FBI, the Teton County Coroner’s Office is filing the following verdict in the death of Gabrielle Venora Petito. We hereby find the cause and manner of death to be: the cause, death by strangulation, and manner is homicide,” Blue says.
He says law enforcement took DNA samples from Petito’s body and determined that she was not pregnant.
The time of death is estimated to have been three to four weeks before Petito’s body was found, Blue says.
The FBI says that apparent human remains, as well as a backpack and other items belonging to Laundrie, have been found near the Florida nature preserve where officials had been searching for him.
The remains were found in an area that until recently was under water, the FBI says. It's unclear whether the remains belong to Laundrie.
“Earlier today, investigators found what appears to be human remains as well as personal items such as a backpack and notebook belonging to Brian Laundrie,” Michael McPherson, special agent in charge of the Tampa field office of the FBI, tells reporters. “Our evidence response team is on scene using all available forensic resources to process the area. It’s likely the team will be on scene for several days.”
Steven Bertolino, attorney for the Laundrie family, says Brian’s parents went to the park to search for their son that morning, and met with North Port police and the FBI.
“After a brief search of a trail that Brian frequented, some articles belonging to Brian were found,” Bertolino said in a statement. “As of now, law enforcement is conducting a more thorough investigation of that area.”
The FBI says dental records confirm that the human remains found the day before were those of Laundrie. NBC News reports the remains were “skeletal” and included part of a human skull.
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