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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — People across the country have become fascinated with the case of Gabby Petito and the homicide investigation that is now underway, along with the search for her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
Internet sleuths have been poring over video – in some cases, frame by frame – to look for clues. But does that outside sleuthing help law enforcement actively investigating the case?
Former FBI Special Agent Dr. Bryanna Fox is now an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida. She says, in some cases, all of the extra attention can help an investigation.
“There are times where something like that can help,” Dr. Fox explained. “Having that many people pore over frame by frame digital evidence could, in some cases, be a force multiplier.
However, some of the information provided by people – even those who want to help – can be overwhelming for a law enforcement investigation, she says.
“The quality is the thing that we’re really stressing here,” Dr. Fox said. “If people are sending any little elements that they think could be relevant, it could actually prolong the amount of time that agencies spend poring over every single lead they get sent to them.”
In addition to internet sleuths, reality TV personality “Dog the Bounty Hunter” has put himself on the scene. Over the weekend, he showed up at the Laundrie family home and knocked on the door. Someone in the house called 911 to report in.
His daughter tweeted Monday night that “Dog the Bounty Hunter” was working on a “hot lead” and this “could be it.”
The lead turned out to be a reported sighting of Brian Laundrie at the Fort De Soto campground. A public records request confirms Laundrie’s parents did stay at the campground. However, a statement from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says there have been no credible sightings of Laundrie there.
Dr. Fox says that kind of tip can be a time-waster for investigators.
“The other big issue with somebody who is such a high-profile person, such as a reality TV figure, injecting themselves is everything they learn now is public,” Dr. Fox said. “And law enforcement, when they learn certain information, they hold that back. That protects the integrity of their investigation. It also makes sure that if they eventually catch the right person, there are some details that only law enforcement knows.”