(Trends Wide) — The search for Brian Laundrie, Gabby Petito’s fiancé, enters a new week and authorities seem no closer to finding him.
Laundrie has been charged with using two financial accounts that did not belong to him between August 30 and September 1. No charges have been brought against him in the death of Petito, whose body was found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest.
The manner in which Petito died was classified as a homicide.
The search continues as investigators try to piece together what happened to Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, on their trip through the western United States this summer. The couple had posted online regularly about their travels with the hashtag #VanLife, but those posts came to an abrupt halt in late August.
Laundrie returned to her parents’ home in North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 without Petito, police said, and was home for about two weeks. His parents told authorities on September 17 that they last saw him three days earlier.
Several experts told Trends Wide on Thursday that time is of the essence in the search for Laundrie. Conditions in South Florida make it extremely difficult to search for forensic evidence.
“Time is something we constantly fight against in law enforcement,” said Bryanna Fox, a former FBI special agent and associate professor in the department of criminology at the University of South Florida.
Laundrie’s parents issued a statement Monday night through his attorney, Steven Bertolino, according to multiple media outlets.
“Chris and Roberta Laundrie do not know where Brian is. They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him,” the statement read. “Speculation by the public and some in the press that the parents helped Brian get out of the family home or avoid arrest in a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is simply incorrect. “.
Bertolino did not immediately respond to Trends Wide’s request for comment.
Find out why experts say it took authorities so long to find Laundrie.
The more time passes, the less evidence there will be
Laundrie basically had a multi-day lead. When his parents told the police that their son had disappeared, he had already been away for three days.
Her parents said Laundrie told them she was heading to the Carlton Reserve, a 10,000-acre nature preserve near the family’s North Port home. A source close to Laundrie’s family told Trends Wide’s Chris Cuomo that Laundrie left his home without his cell phone and wallet.
Bertolino told Trends Wide on Wednesday that Laundrie bought a new cell phone on September 4 at an AT&T store in North Port.
The fact that Laundrie has left those two key elements behind may mean there is very little digital or forensic evidence for authorities, said Fox, a professor at USF. The cell phone would have helped investigators know who Laundrie was communicating with and where he may have been, while his wallet would have told them where he is spending the money.
“Unlike other fugitives or missing persons, we usually have reason to believe that they are in a populated area,” Fox said. “In this case, it looks like he tried maybe to get off the grid and is not living in society. So makes it even harder to find. “
Investigators have searched the reservation for Laundrie, but conditions in South Florida make it difficult to search for evidence, or possible remains.
“In Florida, during the summer and wet season, a body can begin to skeletonize in less than five to seven days,” said Chris Boyer, executive director of the National Search and Rescue Association (NASAR). . “And with predators, you can lose a lot of evidence that way.”
Fox told Trends Wide that tropical conditions “are among the harshest when it comes to forensic evidence.”
“The chances of finding it are getting slimmer, so obviously time is really of the essence,” he said.
Another location, Fort De Soto Campground in Pinellas County, has also become an area of interest, although no official body is investigating the camp. Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman searched the camp for Laundrie on Monday and Tuesday after receiving a tip, his spokesman told Trends Wide.
Authorities must balance the clues and the actual evidence
Petito’s death and the search for Laundrie have become an obsession for many, prompting digital detectives to follow the couple’s online trail to try to solve the case.
“It is very difficult to stay missing when the world is looking for you, or just your family. It is very, very difficult today to intentionally stay missing,” said Michelle Jeanis, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who specializes in missing persons.
Jeanis said that while the public is eager for updates on this case, “it appears that we have limited information for a very good reason.”
Fox said USF investigators found the media and social media to be powerful and positive tools for identifying missing persons. At the same time, that intense interest has highlighted how race and gender influence which of the nearly 90,000 unsolved missing persons cases receive attention and which do not.
But there is also a downside to the onslaught of internet detectives and media coverage.
“People who may have good intentions could be passing clues to law enforcement, and instead of law enforcement having to find a needle in a haystack, it is now more like a grain of sand on a great beach.” Fox said, explaining that each tip must be investigated.
Another problem faced by the authorities is the lack of resources. Boyer explained that crime doesn’t stop just because there is a missing person, and there are police officers who have yet to investigate and respond to other crimes in the community.
There is still hope of finding Laundrie
Despite time and resources being allocated to the search for Laundrie, every expert who spoke to Trends Wide said there is still a chance of finding him.
Fox said the only way Laundrie can continue to evade the police is if he is “absolutely perfect” in hiding.
“In other words, it has to be perfect and not make mistakes. The forces of order, in order to find it, have to find a clue or detect a mistake it made and that could open the whole case,” he said.
The public remains anxious about this case, said Jeanis, a professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but “law enforcement agencies surely try to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of the scenes and the collection of evidence.”
“The public has to be patient, and that can be difficult when we feel that we believe we can be more helpful,” he said. “We are all looking for red flags and they might not make sense.”
Trends Wide’s Dan Shepherd, Gregory Lemos, Taylor Romine, Sara Weistfeldt, Rob Frehse and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.