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
The partial human remains recovered at the Florida environmental park where Brian Laundrie was last believed to have been a day ago were described as "skeletal," a North Port police spokesperson confirmed to News 4 Thursday.
Two senior law enforcement officials also tell NBC News that the apparent human remains discovered yesterday at the Carlton Reserve during the search for Laundrie include a portion of a human skull.
Forensic testing is ongoing but neither federal officials or the local medical examiner have given any timetable as to when the remains will be identified, according to the two law enforcement sources.
The latest development Thursday comes after an attorney for the Laundrie family said the remains found at Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park by parents Chris and Roberta the morning prior are likely those of the missing 23-year-old. Steven Bertolino said they'll await confirmation before commenting 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," the attorney told News 4 late Wednesday.
The FBI field office in Tampa confirmed the basic findings at a news conference Wednesday where for the first time in their six-week probe they called Laundrie a person of interest in Gabby Petito's murder, not just in her disappearance.
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.