What to Know
- The FBI's prime person of interest in Gabby Petito's death, her fiancé Brian Laundrie, has been missing for more than a month; he vanished nearly a week before Petito's body was discovered
- Partial human remains, along with a backpack and notebook believed to belong to Laundrie were discovered in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park by the man's parents on Wednesday
- The identity of the remains is pending forensic study; it's not clear what if anything could be recovered from the notebook that was discovered near a backpack Laundrie's parents say belong to their son
It is "highly probable" that the human remains found inside a Florida nature preserve on Wednesday are those of Brian Laundrie, given they were discovered near the 23-year-old's backpack and hiking gear, the family's attorney says, but the missing man's parents will await forensic confirmation before they speak further.
"Under the circumstances as we know them, finding human remains in the preserve near a backpack and other gear belonging to Brian, it is highly probable that the remains are his," attorney Steven Bertolino said in a statement to NBC New York.
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Bertolino told CNN late Wednesday that Chris and Roberta Laundrie, who were at Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park for the grim discovery hours earlier, were heartbroken by the find. They have not spoken directly to the press at all -- not when Laundrie's fiancee Gabby Petito disappeared, and not after her body was found.
It's not clear how long the medical examiner's office is expected to take to identify the remains, which were described as "partial." The FBI field office in Tampa confirmed the findings at a news conference Wednesday where for the first time in their six-week investigation they called Laundrie a person of interest in Petito's murder, not just in her disappearance.
Subsequently, the North Port Police information officer confirmed Thursday that the remains found are “skeletal.”
In addition to the human remains, the FBI said investigators found a backpack and a notebook believed to belong to Laundrie near a path at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park. The agency added that up until recently, the items were underwater, and were only found now that the water had receded -- an investigative boon Bertolino had suggested would help search teams two weeks ago.
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FBI teams will likely be on scene processing potential evidence for several days, officials said, and the park will remain closed to the public until further notice. The Tampa FBI office said that the Denver team is now leading the investigation.
Bertolino initially said Chris and Roberta Laundrie were the ones to discover the items off a trail their son used to frequent. The discovery came just a day after the park reopened to the public, sparking questions about why the parents had gone there Wednesday and how they could have stumbled on a discovery trained investigators had been trying to make for the better part of the last five weeks.
Bertolino sought to answer those questions late Wednesday. He explained that Chris and Roberta Laundrie had wanted to go to Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park to search for their son and went the day after it reopened.
"The parents had assumed that the experts, the FBI and all the tracking teams they had would be able to locate Brian based upon the information that we had provided them, to the specific areas and trails in the park that Brian liked to visit," he said.
"This is the very area of the park that we initially informed law enforcement on, I believe it was September 17th, that Brian would be most likely in the preserve in this particular area as I know it, near the bridge," Bertolino continued. "If that water had cleared two weeks ago, perhaps could have circled back and looked again. Perhaps they meant to. Perhaps they were further, deeper into the park and never got back to this park because it is so near the entrance, Chris and Roberta went to this area first, and as happenstance was, they stumbled upon these items."
It's not clear what if anything could be recovered from the notebook or what more the FBI might be able to glean from the items found in the environmental park, to advance their investigation into both Petito's death and Laundrie's disappearance.
Laundrie is the only person of interest the FBI has named in Petito's case. He hasn't been seen since Sept. 13, when his parents told authorities their son said he was going for a hike in the Carlton Reserve. The silver Mustang his parents said he drove to the environmental park lot had an "abandoned vehicle" tag that was timestamped 2:24 p.m. Sept. 14, NBC affiliate WFLA previously reported.
That notice would have suggested the vehicle had been left there for at least a day before it was tagged. It'd be another few days before it would've been towed. It wasn't until Sept. 17 that Laundrie's parents reported him missing.
Petito's family didn't immediately comment on Wednesday's findings but have said they hoped Laundrie would be found alive. If not, they said they feared they may not ever get complete answers as to what happened to their daughter.
The 22-year-old Long Island woman's remains were recovered Sept. 19 in a remote area of a Wyoming national park she and Laundrie had visited during their months-long cross-country road trip. Investigators found other remains as they searched for Petito in that area, another reason why officials won't speculate in Laundrie's case.
Last week, the county coroner who ruled Petito's death a homicide revealed chilling details from the autopsy results: She was strangled by someone's bare hands, and likely died three to four weeks before she was found.
That type of death is one of "the most intimate of homicides that can occur," forensic expert Joseph Scott Morgan told News 4's The Debrief podcast last week.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: WHAT GABBY PETITO'S AUTOPSY DETAILS COULD MEAN -- AND WHY 'THE VANISHED' TEAM THINKS THIS CASE STOOD OUT
The coroner who examined Petito's remains, Dr. Brent Blue of Teton County, declined to share additional details on the autopsy results, citing state protocol. The FBI did not comment publicly on those autopsy results or lend any public insight as far as what they might mean for the direction of their investigation.
The FBI continues to solicit tips by phone and online regarding the case.