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SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) — Although interest from the public has waned dramatically in recent months, the FBI continues their investigation into the homicide of Gabby Petito, the Florida woman found dead after a cross-country road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
Authorities haven’t provided an update since November 23 when the Florida District 12 Medical Examiner’s office released Laundrie’s cause of death as a gunshot wound to the head. Laundrie’s death was ruled a suicide.
A December 31 inquiry by WFLA.com to the FBI’s Denver office has not yet been responded to.
Petito’s remains were discovered on September 19 near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Two days later, the FBI launched a homicide investigation into her death.
Teton County Coronor Dr. Brent Blue stated Petito’s body “was outside for three to four weeks” before her body was found. Dr. Blue’s report specified the cause of death be “manual strangulation/throttling,” meaning someone strangled the young woman with their hands or another body part.
The search for Laundrie was an expansive, multi-agency effort that culminated with his remains being discovered in the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida on October 15. His remains were positively identified initially through dental comparison and later by DNA analysis.
Laundrie was named a “person of interest” in Petito’s disappearance early on in the FBI’s investigation, however, he was never labeled a suspect by authorities. During the search for his whereabouts in September, Laundrie was charged with use of unauthorized access devices for alleged illegal use of Petito’s debit card.
In contact with the media, the FBI has maintained the Petito homicide investigation remains ongoing. They have stated interested parties should check the FBI Denver and FBI Tampa Twitter accounts for any updates.
As the Petito and Laundrie investigations fueled rampant news coverage in September and October, the internet swirled with a seemingly endless amount of threads, videos and channels dedicated to the story’s unanswered questions. Many of those questions were fielded during WFLA Now‘s livestreaming coverage using interactive journalism to engage with viewers seeking updates on the Petito and Laundrie investigations.
In November, WFLA.com cataloged the most frequently asked questions from our readers. Below, we have updated the answers to those questions as we await the FBI’s next update in the Petito investigation in 2022:
10. What is Brian Laundrie’s cause of death?
Status: ANSWERED. The Florida Medical Examiner released their report on November 23.
On November 23, the District 12 Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed it had completed its investigation and determined Laundrie’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. The manner of death was ruled a suicide.
The remains found were skeletal, including a partial human skull, leading to dental records being the initial identification method for the remains. The medical examiner’s report would later confirm that DNA analysis matched the remains as well.
According to a news release from the medical examiner’s office, the investigation included a scene response from medical examiner personnel and an examination of the skeletal remains that were recovered. The office also consulted with a forensic odontologist for dental comparison and identification, as well as a forensic anthropologist for skeletal reconstruction.
“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was suicide,” Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino said. “Chris and Roberta are still mourning the loss of their son and are hopeful that these findings bring closure to both families.”
Petito’s family also released a statement on Tuesday through their attorney that said they were aware of the autopsy results.
“Gabby’s family will not be making a statement at this time due to the request of the United States Attorney’s Office and the Teton County Prosecutor’s Office. The family was asked to not make any comments and let the FBI continue their investigation,” the statement read. “The family was also asked to wait for the United States Attorney’s Office to make a determination on whether any additional individuals will be charged. When that determination is made, we will have a statement.”
9. Will the FBI ever release its findings in the Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie investigation?
Status: Unanswered, but updates on the investigation are more likely than not to be addressed in the near future.
The FBI is known for releasing virtually no information during an ongoing federal investigation. This is exactly why details have been scarce in this case from the beginning.
However, as time goes on over years – or even decades, history tells us it’s more likely a trickle of information will eventually come to light through various means such as public information requests by reporters.
“I wonder what sort of evidence the FBI needs to gather to posthumously nudge Laundrie from person of interest to suspect,” said 8 On Your Side Senior Investigative Journalist Walt Buteau. “And does the agency have any obligation to spend its time and resources doing that. Laundrie is dead, not a threat to public safety. Is it worth it or even necessary to build a case that will never be tried?”
“Journalistically, we generally get access to evidence after it’s presented at a trial. That won’t happen here. I don’t think the FBI is obligated to release anything to the public, including that much-talked about notebook. But I also know the agency appreciates a good headline and understands how much the public wants to know more about what happened. Releasing at least some of the evidence along with an investigative narrative would showcase the FBI’s law enforcement chops.”Walt Buteau, 8 On Your Side Senior Investigator
With past FBI-led criminal investigations, the most common information dump is during a court trial. That leads us to the next question.
8. Will any charges ever be filed in connection to Gabby Petito or Brian Laundrie’s deaths?
Status: Unanswered, and as an time goes on, it is less and less likely charges will be filed.
As of this report, no charges have been filed in the Gabby Petito homicide investigation.
The only charge in connection to the case is use of unauthorized access devices, a federal charge of debit card fraud filed against Brian Laundrie. Federal investigators allege Laundrie illegally used a Capital One debit card for obtaining “things of value” amounting to more than $1,000 from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, the dates Laundrie is believed to have been driving home to Florida without Petito. Petito’s family later confirmed the card belonged to their daughter.
The “Justice for Gabby” cause, from demonstrations outside the Laundrie’s home in North Port to insatiable online forums, has primarily been centered on the calls for someone to be held accountable for Petito’s death. Laundrie has never been named a suspect by the FBI. Instead, he’s been the sole “person of interest” in an FBI-led criminal investigation.
If investigators determine Petito died at Laundrie’s hands, there’s a chance charges will never be filed in her death.
Most of the focus has shifted to whoever may have had information on Petito’s death.
7. Why do the Laundries continue to remain silent? And will they ever speak?
Status: It is unknown whether the Laundries will ever speak. They continue to remain silent to the public on the advice of their attorney.
Brian Laundrie’s parents, Chris and Roberta, have remained virtually silent throughout this process, except for their communication with law enforcement. They have been represented legally and in the public view by their longtime attorney, Steven Bertolino of East Islip, New York.
Bertolino has repeatedly stated he has advised his clients to remain silent to any and all parties, including the Petito and Schmidt families, as well as news outlets. Before Laundrie was confirmed missing, Bertolino addressed his clients’ option to remain silent in a statement:
“Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito’s absence. In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this and the warning that “any statement will be used against you” is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito’s disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on this matter.”Attorney Steven Bertolino on Sept. 15
The public’s response to Chris and Roberta Laundrie’s silence has been largely unsympathetic. In text messages to reporters, Bertolino has remained non-committal to his clients speaking soon, or ever, as they continue to grieve their son’s death.
In November, Bertolino told WFLA Now’s JB Biunno that he had been in contact with law enforcement on behalf of his clients over the course of that month. However, Chris and Roberta Laundrie didn’t have any direct contact with investigators during November, Bertolino added.
6. How did search teams miss Brian Laundrie’s skeletal remains and belongings at the Carlton Reserve?
Status: Unanswered officially, although authorities have repeatedly pointed to flooded terrain at the Carlton Reserve in September.
Many online commenters have asked how countless members of law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels did not see Brian Laundrie’s bag or his remains at the Carlton Reserve during the intense search efforts there in September. They also bring up how Chris Laundrie showed up on Oct. 20 and found his son’s bag.
The answer we have to this question is multi-faceted, but rooted in reality. First and foremost, police have stated they welcomed the help of Chris Laundrie to track down his son because he had the best understanding of where Brian Laundrie liked to hike in the vast, rural wilderness of Sarasota County. Simply put, Chris Laundrie knew the areas where his son liked to go.
During the discovery of Brian Laundrie’s belongings, and the remains soon after, Chris and Roberta Laundrie were accompanied by a police escort. Steve Bertolino later told 8 On Your Side that the parents “walked down the path that had been searched and looked many times before.” At some point while the parents were there, Bertolino said Chris Laundrie found a dry bag in the woods that he brought over to Roberta Laundrie, who had remained on the trail.
“He confirmed with Roberta that was Brian’s belongings and momentarily after that, the law enforcement officer came out of the woods and showed Chris and Roberta a picture of a backpack,” Bertolino said. “Law enforcement said the backpack was found near some remains.”
After the parents confirmed the backpack belonged to their son, Bertolino said law enforcement indicated it would be best for them to leave.
Beyond that, it can’t be understated how much Mother Nature played a key role in the discovery of Brian Laundrie’s remains. Water levels were at a wildly inconvenient level for the federal search efforts, in some areas close to chest-deep, due to frequent rainfall in the month of September. A dry spell in October allowed the water to recede significantly and reveal what was underneath. It’s entirely possible search teams were over or near the remains and the belongings in September but had no idea due to the water levels.
5. What’s in Brian Laundrie’s notebook found at the Carlton Reserve? Will we ever know?
Status: Unanswered. If charges are never filed and the case never reaches trial, we may never know what’s in the notebook.
In the FBI’s Oct. 20 news conference after the remains were found, Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson stated that a backpack and a notebook were found in the same area. The mention of the notebook is noteworthy, not only because of the information it potentially holds but also because the FBI was in no way required to reveal any specifics on the items that had been discovered.
The notebook immediately became a focal point of rampant speculation, theorizing and, of all things, hope that it may contain answers on the deaths of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.
The initial worry was that the notebook wouldn’t be intact due to the reserve being flooded through September. However, those fears were put to rest when North Port police told WFLA’s Allyson Henning that the notebook is “possibly salvageable.”
If the contents of the notebook are legible, the next question is whether they’d ever be publicly released.
“Unless there is a civil or criminal proceeding in this case, it’s quite possible we will never know the contents of the notebook,” 8 On Your Side Investigative Journalist and former New York City prosecutor Mahsa Saeidi said.
4. Why did the Laundrie family go camping at Fort DeSoto six days after Brian Laundrie returned from the cross-country trip alone?
Status: Unanswered. The Laundrie’s attorney has never specified the exact reason for the camping trip.
When our viewers and readers respond to the Brian Laundrie timeline, some of the most frequently-asked questions are about the Fort DeSoto camping trip on Sept. 6 and 7.
Brian Laundrie and his parents were joined for the Pinellas County camping trip by his sister Cassie Laundrie and her family. They stayed at the waterfront campsite #001, as confirmed by witnesses and photographs Cassie Laundrie released for an interview with Good Morning America.
Internet users want to know what was talked about on that camping trip, given that Brian Laundrie had just returned home alone without his fiancé Gabby Petito.
3. What did Brian Laundrie tell his parents when he returned home without Gabby Petito?
Status: Unanswered. What Chris and Roberta Laundrie knew in early September remains a rampant source of online speculation.
Brian Laundrie returned home from the cross-country trip without his fiancé on Sept. 1. When he returned to North Port, police said he was in the same white Ford van the couple had traveled in together, a vehicle that was in Gabby Petito’s name.
It was the second time in a two-week period that he had gone home by himself. Bertolino confirmed Laundrie flew back to Florida from Salt Lake City, Utah, on Aug. 17 for a period of six days and spent time going through a storage unit he and Petito had shared. According to Bertolino, Laundrie returned back to Utah to reunite with Petito on Aug. 23, four days before she was last seen.
Laundrie and Petito had lived with his parents at their North Port home for more than a year. After Petito was reported missing, her family begged the Laundries to come forward with any information they had.
“Gabby lived with you for over a year. She’s going to be your daughter-in-law. How can you keep her location hidden?” the family said in a letter read by their attorney on Sept. 16.
As of right now, we still don’t know what Brian Laundrie told his parents, and whether or not it was truthful.
2. Why didn’t the Laundries return phone calls or text messages from Gabby Petito’s family while she was missing?
Status: Unanswered. The Laundrie’s attorney said “it’s not the time to discuss that” in a NewsNation interview from October.
Attorney Steven Bertolino was asked this question point-blank in a NewsNation interview in October, and interestingly, he chose not to answer.
“Unfortunately [NewsNation’s Marni Hughes], I can’t have that conversation with you at this time,” he said.
“It’s not the appropriate time to have that conversation,” Bertolino added, after being pressed by Hughes.
Rewinding to the first week of September, before this story was on the radar of national news outlets, Gabby Petito’s mother Nichole Schmidt and father Joe Petito said they were repeatedly reaching out to their future son-in-law, Brian Laundrie, and his parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, desperately seeking information on their daughter’s whereabouts.
Those calls and text messages, according to Petito’s family, went unanswered.
The Laundries were advised to remain silent by their longtime lawyer, Bertolino, who himself has remained silent on why there wasn’t a conversation between the families.
The question posed endlessly by loyal followers of the case is: why didn’t the Laundries respond to the calls and texts from Petito’s family?
Shortly after Petito was reported missing, on Sept. 14, the Laundrie family released a statement through Bertolino saying the family was “remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.” Petito’s family released a response statement slamming the Laundries for refusing to help.
Several days later, Petito’s family addressed the Laundries again in a letter read by a family attorney.
“We understand that you are going through a difficult time and your instinct is strong to protect your son,” the letter said. “We ask you to put yourselves in our shoes. We haven’t been able to sleep or eat and our lives are falling apart.”
1. Why are Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie dead?
Status: Unanswered. Hope for an answer hinges on the FBI’s ongoing investigation.
Brian Laundrie, 23, and Gabby Petito, 22, were engaged and ready to spend the rest of their lives with one another. They appeared happy, adventurous and full of life as they posted to all their social media accounts during their cross-country, two-month road trip from Long Island across the continental United States.
Until something terrible changed everything.
In September, it was revealed that the couple’s seemingly happy-go-lucky social media presence didn’t tell the whole story.
Information on a domestic dispute response by police in Moab, Utah, was released in September. Police responded to a witness report of an argument and physical altercation involving the couple but decided the fight didn’t rise to the level of “domestic assault.” Additional body camera video was released later that showed Petito talking to police.
“Did you get hit in the face? Kind of looks like someone hit you in the face,” an officer could be heard saying.
“I guess yeah, but I hit him first,” Petito replied.
For many, the Moab incident helps the public gain a better understanding of what Gabby and Brian’s relationship might have been like in the days before Petito’s death when the cameras weren’t rolling. However, as frequent as domestic disputes are, few end with both parties dead weeks later.
The exact circumstances of Gabby Petito’s death remain a mystery. While the Teton County coroner confirmed she died of manual strangulation, the reason for her murder – as well as the identity of the person responsible – remains unconfirmed by authorities. This continues to fuel a persistent following of the case including by some who refuse to rest until the truth is known to all.
And when the public demands answers, there’s one question that comes up more than any other.