Brian Laundrie cops blame 'human error' in search for Gabby Petito's fiance after mixing up fugitive with mom Roberta

THE head of the small Florida police department that led the initial investigation into Brian Laundrie blamed "human error" for the mixup in finding Gabby Petito's fiance after they accidentally mistook Laundrie's mom for the fugitive.

North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison spoke during an event in Venice on Friday night, just days after it was revealed that investigators with his department had mistaken Brian for his mother days after he'd vanished.


Laundrie, 23, was last seen alive on September 13 after telling his parents, Chris and Roberta, that he was going hiking in the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota Count, but failed to return home.

North Port PD first began watching Brian after Gabby's family reported her missing on September 11 – ten days after he returned from their cross-country road trip without her.

On September 13, North Port Police watched Brian leave his parent's home in his grey Mustang through cameras they'd secretly planted outside of the home.

Two days later, investigators thought they saw him return to the family home in the same car.

Amid increasing media attention, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told reporters on Sept. 16 that police were confident about where Brian was.

However, the next day, Brian was reported missing by his parents who said they hadn't seen him since Sept. 14. That date was later revised to Sept. 13 in a statement issued by the family's attorney.

The person who they had seen get out of the Mustang was actually Brian's mother, it would later emerge. Investigators said the fact she was wearing a baseball cap and is "built similarly" to Brian was the cause of the confusion.

A spokesperson for North Port PD previously suggested that the mishap had no significant bearing on the outcome of the case, but criticism has still flooded in thick and fast.

The error comes just as Garrison's colleague Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said he and his team believed Laundrie to have already been dead when Garrison's team became the lead investigators on the hunt.

He also added that Laundrie "went out there and by all accounts probably committed suicide and he was right out there where we thought he was."

'THOUGHT IT WAS A PLOY'

Speaking on Friday night, Garrison defended his department's probe and insisted that for the first three-and-a-half days after Gabby was reported missing, North Port police were only operating in a support role to cops in New York, where Petito's missing person's report was filed.

“What a lot of people don’t know, in June, Gabby and Brian moved out of their location and put a lot of stuff into storage and they changed their address and moved to New York and from there, they left for their cross-country adventure,” Garrison said, according to the Herald-Tribune.

On September 14, working in conjunction with the FBI, North Port then became the lead agency on what was still technically a search for Petito, he said.

“Now, we know that, by the time we became the lead agency, Brian had already left the house and presumably had already been deceased out in the Carlton Reserve,” Garrison said. 

“We are out there in the public for making a human error; the surveillance team told me 'Chief, Brian was seen going inside the house,'” he added. 

So when Garrison told media on September 16 that he knew where Laundrie was, “It was 100% in my belief that what the team told me was accurate and Brian was outside the house.  

“Later on, we found out that Brian had left the house and now the parents on Friday wanted to report him missing,” Garrison said. “There was nobody more surprised about that than me. 

“In fact, when my officers went out to the house to do the report with the FBI, I sat with the deputy chief in my office, hoping that they would find Brian hiding in a back bedroom,” he said. “I was hoping, maybe it was a ploy. It wasn't.” 

HUMAN ERROR

Garrison said he stands by the efforts of the investigators who made the bizarre mistake.

“As a 30-year (law enforcement) veteran, doing surveillance, this is not uncommon and if any expert out there says it is, they’re lying to you,” Garrison said.

“I can tell you one thing, the amount of work that was done, behind the scenes, 24 hours a day, from our team and the FBI team working on the second floor of the police department, was phenomenal work. 

“That work led the search teams to locate Gabby Petito deceased," Garrison said. “I want to remind everyone: our primary focuses the first couple of days was to find Gabby. 

“If Brian did go on the run, he would be found; I was confident of that,” he continued. “People are making judgments on things that were discovered or learned over the last five weeks. 

“We didn’t know a lot of this information over the first four days.” 

He continued: "Yes, we made a mistake it was human error but I still stand behind my team.” 

'PROBABLY COMMITTED SUICIDE'

Sheriff Hoffman also praised the efforts of Garrison and his department, while also offering speculation over Brian's cause of death.

“We talked probably 20 times during that situation and obviously we supported them out in the preserve looking for Brian Laundrie,” Hoffman said. “I told them; you guys were right – he and deputy chief were right. 

“That guy went out there and by all accounts probably committed suicide and he was right out there where we thought he was,” he added. “There was four feet of water out there at the time.” 

Despite Hoffman's speculation, a cause of death, manner and time of death for Brian Laundrie has not yet been determined.

His remains were found in a grassy stretch of land in Myakkahatchee Creek Park, which is adjacent to Carlton Reserve, on October 20.

Also found was a notebook and backpack of Laundrie's.

The remains, which were described as "bones," were recovered from an area of the park that had, until recently, been submerged in storm waters.

An autopsy came back inconclusive last week. A forensic pathologist is now investigating Brian's remains, which are believed to consist only of a partial human skull and bones.

PROBE CONTINUES

Brian and Gabby Petito had been on a cross-country road trip touring the US national parks when Gabby vanished in late August, two weeks after the couple was involved in a domestic violence dispute in Moab, Utah.

Petito's family last heard from her on August 27, receiving a text they characterized as "strange" before Gabby's phone was switched off for good.

Her body was found at a dispersed campsite near Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming, on September 19.

A coroner determined that she had been strangled to death by a "human force" some three to four weeks before she was found.

Brian has never been named a suspect in Gabby's death but is the sole person of interest in the case.

He was also wanted on bank fraud charges after allegedly racking up $1,000 in charges on a credit card belonging to Gabby in the days after she was killed.

An investigation into Brian's cause of death and Gabby's murder remains active and ongoing.



Brian Laundrie timeline

Brian Laundrie has not been seen since the morning of September 13. Here is a timeline of Laundrie’s latest whereabouts:

  • July 2021: Brian Laundrie and his fiancé Gabby Petito leave for a grip across the country. The couple visit numerous national parks across the way.
  • August 12: Police in Utah respond to an incident involving the couple. The bodycam footage is not released for another month but it shows a visibly upset Gabby talking to police after reports of a domestic violence incident outside a grocery store.
  • August 24: Gabby is seen leaving a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Laundrie.
  • September 1: Laundrie returns to his home in North Port, Florida without Gabby.
  • September 6: Laundrie joins his family on a camping trip about 75 miles from their home in North Port.
  • September 11: Gabby's family reports her missing.
  • September 13: Laundrie leaves home to go hiking in Carlton Reserve, Florida. His family had initially said he departed on September 14, but revised their timeline weeks later.
  • September 15: Laundrie is named a person of interest in the case of Gabby.
  • September 16: Bodycam footage is released regarding the incident between Gabby and Laundrie.
  • September 19: The FBI announces a body found at a Wyoming national park is believed to be that of Gabby's.
  • September 23: The FBI issued a warrant for Laundrie's arrest claiming he "used unauthorized debit cards after Gabby Petito's death."
  • September 26: A funeral is held for Gabby in New York.
  • September 27: Dog the Bounty Hunter announces he will lend a hand and help search for Laundrie.
  • September 28: Gabby's family held an emotional press conference as the search for Laundrie continued.
  • October 5: Laundrie's sister, Cassie, appeared on Good Morning America and urged her brother to come forward.
  • October 7: Laundrie's father, Chris Laundrie, assisted law enforcement in the search to find his son.
  • October 12: Gabby's autopsy results were made public. Teton County Coroner Dr Brent Blue confirmed Gabby died by strangulation.  
  • October 20: Laundrie's personal items were found near the Myakkahatchee Creek Park trail in Florida. The medical examiner was called to the scene to investigate.
  • October 21: Reports stated the human remains found in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park were bones.
  • October 21: The FBI confirmed the remains found have been identified as Laundrie's.

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