The FBI has confirmed the human remains found at the Carlton Reserve in Florida belong to Brian Laundrie.
“A comparison of dental records confirmed that the human remains found at the T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve and Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park are those of Brian Laundrie,” the bureau said in a Tweet.
The discovery comes weeks after a manhunt launched to find Laundrie, 23, who went missing after the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, his 22-year-old fiancée. The couple was on a months-long cross-country trip when Laundrie returned to his Florida home Sept. 1 without Petito. She was officially reported missing by her family on Sept. 11, and Laundrie began a person of interest for her disappearance. He himself then vanished.
On Sept. 18, North Port police announced their search for Laundrie at the Carlton Reserve, an area his family reportedly believed he entered. The next day, authorities found Petito’s remains in Wyoming. Her death, which is reported to have had occurred at least three weeks before, was ruled a homicide by a coroner.
Now, months after the story gained the attention of the nation, Laundrie has also been found dead. On Oct. 20, human remains, described as “skeletal” by the North Port Police Department, were discovered along with some of Laundrie’s personal items, including a backpack and notebook. No cause of death has been determined or confirmed as of now.
The area had reportedly been searched previously but was underwater at the time. Laundrie’s parents helped in the search after the park was reopened to the public, and it was his father who discovered Laundrie’s bag. Investigators remained in the area after the discovery in an attempt to gather more information.
“I know you have a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers yet,” said FBI Tampa special agent Michael McPherson on Oct. 20. “We are working diligently to get those answers for you.”
“There are two young people that have now lost their lives,” Laundrie family lawyer Steven Bertolino told NBC. “There are parents that are suffering. Now, I understand that whatever happened or whatever didn’t happen, whatever people know, this is tragic for two families. And anybody with a child and anybody with a sense of humanity can understand the frustration that both families feel.”
While the case might be over from an official standpoint, Petito and Laundrie’s stories made waves that have outlasted the search.
For some, the manhunt hasn’t concluded at all, with skeptics and theorists on social media deliberating the authenticity of the evidence of Laundrie’s death. Twitter especially has been demanding answers, with some users arguing that the discovery of the evidence was simply too convenient to not have been staged.
“[S]o you’re telling me the FBI looked for Brian Laundrie for 5 weeks… then they open the reserve and call off the search… and then, when his parents decide to go look on their own, within a few hours they find his belongings and the medical examiner gets called out?? [Y]eah, ok,” one skeptic wrote.
Uncertainty over when Laundrie could have died has also caused confusion and muddled the timeline of the case. Authorities recently reported that they confused Laundrie for his mother in surveillance footage on Sept. 15, and this allows for the possibility that he was already deceased at that time. This is plenty of time for his body to decompose to the state of the remains found last week, former medical examiner Joseph Scott Morgan told NBC New York.
“Remember we’re dealing with high heat and high relative humidity. A body in this harsh environment is going to decompose rapidly,” Morgan said. “This a partial skeletal remains case. That’s significant because we have to begin to think about scavenger activity. We also have to think about what kind of toll the environment has taken on the body. Sometimes bodies will just literally come apart. We don’t know what’s missing.”
According to authorities, this misstep didn’t matter in the long run and speculation over whether Laundrie is truly dead is unfounded.
“Other than confusion, it likely changed nothing,” North Port Police spokesperson Josh Taylor told WINK News. There is a very good possibility that Brian was already deceased. He still needed to be found.”
Another question the Petito case has raised is why this case in particular garnered so much media coverage. Ever since the first reports of the couple’s disappearance came out, the entire country has been battered with details and updates—their names have dominated headlines for months now. While not necessarily a bad thing, the amount of talk over Petito’s case has been compared to the lack of awareness about other missing person cases, especially those of minorities.
Of the 543,018 Americans reported missing in 2020, 59% were white or Hispanic, 37% were black, according to the Black and Missing Foundation. Of those, only seven percent of minorities reported received coverage by the media.
Petito is one of many to go missing just in that one area of the country, even. 710 Native American people were missing in Wyoming between 2011 and 2020, according to Wyoming’s Taskforce on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons. On some reservations, the murder rate of Native American women is more than 10 times the national average, according to the Department of Justice.
“White women and girls in particular are more easily seen as ‘universal’ victims with whom all viewers and readers can identify,” said Northwestern University sociologist Zach Sommers. Sommers analyzed media coverage of FBI missing person cases in his 2013 study in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. In the study, Sommers concluded that, while white women account for about a third of the country’s population, they make up half of the news articles he reviewed.
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie’s cases might have ended with the discovery of Laundrie’s body last week, but the heartbreak Petito’s family—and the hundreds of families with missing loved ones–feels will last a lifetime.
“It wasn’t the outcome that anyone had hoped for, and I hope that [Petito’s] family receives justice,” Jolie Varela, a Nüümü land protector who runs the Indigenous Women Hike Instagram account, said in a post. “For everyone that followed and became invested in this devastating story, I ask that you put that same energy into caring and amplifying the story of the many…who do not receive national attention and resources to aid in their recovery.”