Weather and environmental factors complicate Brian Laundrie’s search, experts say

By Amir Vera, CNN

(CNN) – The search for Brian Laundrie, Gabby Petito’s fiancé, is heading into another week and authorities don’t seem any closer to finding him.

Laundrie was accused of using two financial accounts that did not belong to her between August 30 and September 1. No charges have been brought against him in the death of Petito, whose body was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming.

Petito’s death was ruled a homicide.

The search continues as investigators try to piece together what happened to Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, on their road trip across the West this summer. The couple had regularly posted online about their travels with the hashtag #VanLife, but those posts abruptly stopped in late August.

Laundrie returned to her parents’ home in North Port, Fla., on Sept. 1 without Petito, police said, and remained at home for about two weeks. His parents told authorities on September 17 that they had last seen him three days earlier.

Several experts told CNN on Thursday that time is running out in the search for Laundrie. Conditions in South Florida make finding forensic evidence extremely difficult.

“Time is something we constantly fight against in law enforcement,” said Bryanna Fox, a former FBI special agent and associate professor in the University of South Florida’s Department of Criminology.

Laundrie’s parents released a statement Monday night through their attorney, Steven Bertolino, according to multiple media outlets.

“Chris and Roberta Laundrie do not know Brian’s whereabouts. They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him,” the statement read. “Speculation from the public and some members of the press that the parents helped Brian leave the family home or avoid being arrested under a warrant issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is simply false.”

Bertolino did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Here’s why experts say it took authorities so long to find Laundrie.

The more time passes, the less evidence there will be

Laundrie was essentially several days ahead of law enforcement. When his parents informed the police that their son was missing, he had already been gone for three days.

His parents said Laundrie told them he was heading to the Carlton Reserve, a 25,000-acre nature reserve near the family home in North Port. A source close to Laundrie’s family told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that Laundrie left their home without his cellphone or wallet.

Bertolino told CNN on Wednesday that Laundrie actually bought a new cell phone Sept. 4 at an AT&T store in North Port.

The fact that Laundrie left those two key pieces behind may mean there is very little digital or forensic evidence for authorities, said USF professor Fox. The cell phone would have helped investigators know who Laundrie was communicating with and where he might have been, while his wallet would have told them where he was spending money.

“Unlike other fugitives or missing persons, we generally have reason to believe they are in a populated area,” Fox said. “In this case, it looks like he may have tried to get out of the network and he’s not living in the company, so it’s even harder to find him.”

Investigators have searched for Laundrie on the reservation, but conditions in South Florida make it difficult to find 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 nonprofit National Association for Research and Development. rescue (NASAR). “And with predators, you can lose a lot of evidence that way.”

Fox told CNN that the tropical conditions “are among the harshest on forensic evidence.”

“The odds of finding it decrease every day, so obviously time is really of the essence,” she said.

Another location, Fort De Soto Campground in Pinellas County, has also become an area of ​​interest, although no official law enforcement agency is investigating the campground. Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman was looking for Laundrie at the campsite Monday and Tuesday after receiving a tip, his spokesperson told CNN.

Authorities must balance tips and real evidence

Petito’s death and the search for Laundrie have become an obsession for many, prompting digital sleuths to scour the couple’s online trail and try to crack the case.

“It’s very hard to go missing when the world is looking for you, or just your family. It’s really, really hard today to go intentionally missing,” said Michelle Jeanis, assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at the University of Louisiana. Lafayette Criminal Affairs Department. Justice specialized in missing persons.

Jeanis said that while the public was eager for updates on this case, “it looks like we have limited information for a very good reason.”

Fox said USF researchers have found that the media and social networks are powerful and positive tools for identifying missing persons. At the same time, this intense interest has highlighted the impact of race and gender on the nearly 90,000 unsolved missing persons cases that are getting attention and those that are not.

But there is also a negative side to the onslaught of internet sleuths and media coverage.

“People who maybe even mean well could give advice to law enforcement and instead of law enforcement having to find a needle in a haystack, it’s now more like a grain of sand on a great beach,” Fox said, explaining that every trick has to be studied.

Another problem facing the authorities is the lack of resources. Boyer explained that crime doesn’t stop just because there’s a missing person, and there are battered cops who still need to investigate and respond to other crimes in the community.

There is still hope to find Laundrie

Despite the time and resources allocated to finding Laundrie, every expert who spoke to CNN said there was still a chance of finding him.

Fox said the only way Laundrie can continue to evade the police is to go into “absolutely perfect” hiding.

“In other words, he must be perfect and make no mistakes. Law enforcement, in order to find him, must either find a clue or detect a mistake he made and that could blow up any case,” she said. .

The public continues to be impatient about this case, said Jeanis, a professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but “law enforcement is surely trying to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and protection scenes and collecting evidence”.

“Audiences need to be patient, and that can be hard to do in a time when we have feelings where we think we can be more helpful,” she said. “We’re all looking for red flags and they might be meaningless.”

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