North Port police revealed on Monday that they mistook Roberta Laundrie for her son, Brian Laundrie, which is why the department’s chief claimed he knew where the man was even though he had been missing for several days.
On 16 September, five days after Gabby Petito was reported missing, North Port Police Chief Tedd Garrison told reporters he knew where Laundrie was located.
In reality, Laundrie had already left his home for the last time, disappearing into the Carlton Reserve, where he would eventually be found dead. It is possible Laundrie was already dead at the time of Mr Garrison’s press conference.
Laundrie left his home on 12 September, “visibly upset,” according to family attorney Steven Bertolino. The attorney claims he told the FBI on 13 September that Laundrie never returned home, but the police search for him did not begin until 17 September, when his car was discovered at the reserve.
As the timeline of events became clear, reporters began asking why Mr Garrison claimed he knew where Laundrie was located.
On Monday, North Port police spokesman Josh Taylor said that Mr Garrison made his comment based on reports from police officers who claimed they saw Laundrie drive home in his silver Mustang. However, it was later revealed that the person officers saw was actually his mother wearing a baseball cap.
“We thought that we’d seen Brian initially come back into that home on that Wednesday,” Mr Taylor said.
When asked if they saw someone else, Mr Taylor said he believed it was Ms Laundrie in a hat.
“I believe it was his mom, who was wearing a baseball cap,” he said. “They had returned from the park with that Mustang.”
Laundrie’s remains were eventually found in a park near the Carlton Reserve on 20 October, a day after the park reopened to the public. Police and the FBI had been searching the reserve for weeks with little to show for their efforts.
On the day his remains were found, Laundrie’s parents accompanied law enforcement into the reserve, where they located his dry bag and a notebook. Later, his partial skeletal remains were discovered.
Police said that the area where they found his items and remains had been underwater for much of September, but a drier October caused the waters to recede, revealing the items.
Over the weekend, numerous people entered the park to see if they could locate any other items tied to the case. The North Port police were given numerous items, including bones, but said none of the items were related to the case. One item, a water bottle with the same design as Ms Petito’s, was turned over to the department, but they have not made a public statement confirming or disconfirming that it was owned by the woman.