Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie investigation: Top unanswered questions still remaining

National News

SARASOTA CO., Fla. (WFLA) – As the public awaits the release of more information from the FBI on the deaths of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, there are many questions that remain unanswered.

Over the past eight weeks, Nexstar’s WFLA has been tracking the case closely and has received lots of questions from viewers. Some questions focus on who’s who in the case, such as Laundrie’s parents, Chris and Roberta, and the family attorney, Steven Bertolino. There are also questions that focus on the evidence, such as the notebook found near Laundrie’s remains and the Ford Mustang police say gave them a starting point for their search after it was found at the Carlton Reserve.

There are also questions that center around Petito and Laundrie, the former who died of strangulation, according to the coroner, and the latter whose cause of death is yet to be revealed.

Here are some of the top questions WFLA received, and the answers we can give so far.

10. What is Brian Laundrie’s cause of death?

In a release by the FBI on Oct. 21, federal officials announced that the comparison of dental records confirmed that the human remains found at the Carlton Reserve were those of Brian Laundrie. The confirmation came a day after an FBI press conference in which officials announced they had discovered remains, a bag and a notebook at the reserve.

The remains found were skeletal, including a partial human skull, leading to dental records being the primary identification method. North Port police said on Oct. 26 that a DNA test on the remains is yet to be conducted.

Laundrie family attorney Steve Bertolino has stated the autopsy results came back “inconclusive.” The remains are now being examined by anthropologists, and experts say that process could take several weeks depending on the quality of evidence they have to work with.

The anthropology test results may or may not give forensic examiners enough information to definitively conclude a cause of death. It remains unclear whether the FBI would release that information, whether the Sarasota County medical examiner would announce it at a press conference or whether it will be made public first through the family’s attorney.

9. Will the FBI ever release its findings in the Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie investigation?

The FBI is known for releasing virtually no information during an ongoing federal investigation. This is 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.

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?

As of this report, no charges have been filed in the Gabby Petito homicide investigation.

The only charge in connection to the case is 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.

Laundrie has never been named a suspect in Petito’s murder. Instead, he’s been the sole “person of interest” in an FBI-led criminal investigation.

If investigators determine Petito died at the hands of Laundrie, there’s a chance charges will never be filed in her death.

7. Why do Laundrie’s parents continue to remain silent? And will they ever speak?

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 Gabby Petito’s parents and 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 on whether his clients will speak publicly as they continue to grieve their son’s death.

6. How did search teams miss Brian Laundrie’s skeletal remains and belongings at the Carlton Reserve?

Many online commenters have asked how 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 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.

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 WFLA 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 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 high water levels.

5. What’s in Brian Laundrie’s notebook found at the Carlton Reserve?

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 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,” WFLA 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?

Brian Laundrie and his parents were joined for the Pinellas County camping trip on Sept. 6 and 7 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.

People want to know what was talked about on that camping trip, given that Brian Laundrie had just returned home alone without his fiancée Gabby Petito. At this point, we don’t have answers.

3. What did Brian Laundrie tell his parents when he returned home without Gabby Petito?

Brian Laundrie returned home from the cross-country trip without his Petito 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 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 went back to Utah to reunite with Petito on Aug. 23, four days before she was last seen.

Before their road trip, 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?

Attorney Steven Bertolino was asked this question point-blank in a NewsNation interview in October, and 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.

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?

Brian Laundrie, 23, and Gabby Petito, 22, were engaged and ready to spend the rest of their lives with one another. In posts on social media, they appeared happy and adventurous on their cross-country, two-month road trip from Long Island across the continental United States.

The overarching question is what went wrong?

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. However, few domestic disputes 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. With both Petito and Laundrie now deceased, the public and their families may never have a full picture of what led up to the couple’s deaths.

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