The search for fugitive Brian Laundrie has come to an end following the discovery of his remains on Wednesday, but the conclusion of the well-publicized manhunt has left significantly more questions than answers about what became of him and what role he played in the death of his fiancee Gabby Petito.
In addition to the possibility that Petito’s grieving parents may now never know what happened to their daughter, who was found strangled to death in Wyoming on Sep. 19, it appears the cause of Laundrie’s own death just got more mysterious as well.
The results of an autopsy of Laundrie’s remains, which were discovered in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park near his parent’s Florida home on Wednesday, have been deemed inconclusive.
“No manner or cause of death was determined, and the remains were sent to an anthropologist for further evaluation,” the Laundrie family attorney, Steve Bertolino, told The New York Post on Friday.
Laundrie’s remains were discovered next to some of his belongings in a part of the nature reserve that had previously been under water. Authorities had been scouring the T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve and Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park since his parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, reported him missing in September.
The parents, who have remained absolutely mum at Bertolino’s behest, told police that they last saw their son on Sep. 13 after he left the house to hike at the reserve. They did not report him missing until Sep. 17, however.
A multi-state manhunt ensued in which even Dog the Bounty Hunter took part. Sightings of Brian were reported from Canada to Mexico and everywhere in between as speculation raged about where he could be hiding.
All along, the Laundries have been suspected of helping their son evade law enforcement. The Petitos say they were “stonewalled” by Brian and his parents when they began to worry about Gabby’s whereabouts after her fiance returned to the Florida home they shared with the Laundries without her.
Although authorities had been combing the nature reserve for weeks, once it was finally re-opened to the public, Chris and Roberta informed law enforcement that they wanted to search by themselves.
Within hours of the couple’s arrival at the park, Brian’s belongings had been found next to human remains, which were later identified as his using dental records.
Bertolino claimed it was simple “happenstance” that his parents were there at the same time that his remains were found, but this hasn’t quelled suspicions in the least that the couple has been covering for their son.
A source told CNN on Wednesday that the remains had been there for “a while.”
“Based on the condition of the remains, it may take some time to officially identify. It is going to be a very thorough process with the medical examiner,” the source told the outlet.
Although the remains were identified Thursday (you can’t ever put too much stock in what a CNN source says, after all), the cause of death is what appears to have left the medical examiner stumped.
Dr. Heather Walsh-Haney told WPBF-TV that forensic anthropologists are called upon when remains have been “ravaged” by the environment or soft tissue has been removed — “soft tissue markers that the forensic pathologist would use,” she said.
Florida archeologist Sara Ayers-Rigsby told WINK-TV that anthropologists will work with the medical examiner‘s office to identify “what kind of trauma might be associated with these remains.”
First, she said, they will have to “figure out or ascertain you know where, how far have and if these remains have been moved at all” by wildlife or floodwaters.
According to WINK, the FBI said that Laundrie’s remains had been under water for weeks.
“On the one hand, you might encounter better preservation, right, because the material isn’t exposed to oxygen, so that can perhaps help,” Ayers-Rigsby said. She added that, on the other hand, water can deteriorate remains as well, as could alligators, which are indeed in residence at the nature reserve.
She also explained that the forensic anthropologists will examine the area around where the remains were found to determine what may have happened.
“If an area is flooded, and it brings a lot of mud, that’s something that happens in a relatively short period of time. So they could be looking into what kind of sedimentation and what kind of soil processes are happening at the site,” she explained.
The discovery of Laundrie’s remains has not only posed a whole new onslaught of questions about this headline-grabbing case; it has also potentially robbed Petito’s family of closure.
The deceased 22-year-old’s parents reported Gabby missing on Sep. 11, nearly three weeks after they had last heard from her.
Petito and Laundrie spent the summer driving across the country in their van, documenting the journey for social media using the #vanlife hashtag.
Laundrie, however, inexplicably returned to Florida without Petito on Sep. 1. The couple had last been seen on Aug. 27 after Laundrie appeared to get into an altercation with a waitress in Wyoming.
The pair had previously interacted with law enforcement in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12 after someone called 911 to report that a man had been hitting a woman. The bodycam footage of the couple’s respective conversations with police has been widely circulated.
Gabby’s body was found at a campground in Wyoming on Sep. 19. The cause of death was determined to have been homicide by strangulation.
The young woman’s disappearance and subsequently discovered murder captivated internet sleuths, in no small part due to the fact that the couple had documented so much of their life together over the summer on social media.
With the discovery of Brian’s remains and an inconclusive autopsy report, it’s doubtful anyone will be giving up their amateur detective skills anytime soon.