TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Just hours before forensic teams positively identified the human remains that were found Wednesday during the search for Brian Laundrie, the Laundrie family’s attorney painted a clearer picture of what happened in the days leading up to the 23-year-old being reported missing.
Steve Bertolino, the attorney representing Laundrie’s family, told 8 On Your Side’s Mahsa Saeidi that he and the family reported Brian missing the very first night that he went for a hike and didn’t come home.
“I had a conversation with the FBI that night or the morning after – probably both – and conversed with the FBI and conveyed to them that Brian did not come home,” Bertolino said.
Here’s what we learned from Bertolino’s interview with 8 On Your Side:
When was Brian reported missing?
Brian was officially declared a missing person on Sept. 17. At the time, his parents told police they had last seen him leave home to go to the Carlton Reserve area for a hike on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Bertolino later said that, after further communication with the FBI, the Laundries believed their son actually left home to go hiking on Sept. 13.
Bertolino told 8 On Your Side he notified the FBI that Brian hadn’t returned on Sept. 13 or Sept. 14. In the following days, he said, he did not call the FBI to tell them that Laundrie still hadn’t returned. He also said police never called him to ask if Laundrie came home.
“So it was just no communication,” he said. “It wasn’t miscommunication, it was really no communication.”
The North Port Police Department held a news conference on Sept. 16 begging the public to come forward with information on the whereabouts of Brian’s fiancé Gabby Petito, who had been reported missing by her family members on Sept. 11 after Brian returned home alone from a cross-country trip the couple had been on since July. Brian was named a person of interest in her disappearance on Sept. 15. Petito was later found dead in Wyoming.
During the news conference on Sept. 16, a reporter asked Police Chief Todd Garrison, “do you know where Brian Laundrie is right now?” Garrison responded, “yes.”
“Apparently, the North Port PD was under the impression that Brian was home,” Bertolino said Thursday. “And I’ve spoken to representatives from North Port PD and they’ve conveyed that they legitimately thought Brian was still at home.”
Bertolino said he received a call from the FBI on Friday, Sept. 17 about a tip that Brian was in Tampa. He said he told the agent again that Brian never came home from his hike, and law enforcement responded to the family’s North Port home. A missing person report was filed that night.
“As it turns out, the FBI was also under the impression that Brian had come home and it was just the fact that there had been no communication between Monday or Friday from confirmation from either side,” Bertolino said.
Did Brian’s parents search?
According to Bertolino, Brian’s dad Chris went out to the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on Sept. 13 after his son didn’t come home.
“Chris went out that night and looked for him,” the attorney said. “It was wet, it was rainy. Chris couldn’t see anything. It was dark.”
Bertolino said Chris and his wife Roberta went back to the park the next day, Sept. 14, and saw the Mustang with a “summons” for being parked overnight. He said the couple spent several hours walking around but couldn’t go off trail because the park was relatively flooded.
Chris and Roberta Laundrie returned to the park again on Sept. 15 and brought the Mustang home so it wouldn’t get towed, according to Bertolino. The family’s attorney told 8 On Your Side the parents believed Brian would find his way home.
Chris Laundrie went back to the park on Oct. 7 to join law enforcement crews that were searching for Brian. Bertolino said they had to stay on the trails in the park because it was flooded.
“Chris told me personally the water was at least waist-deep off the trail, the last time he was on that trail,” Bertolino said.
What happened when remains were found?
More than a month into the search for Brian, on Oct. 20, partial skeletal remains were found in the Carlton Reserve. The remains were identified as those of Brian on Thursday using dental records, according to the FBI.
Both Chris and Roberta Laundrie were at the park, which reopened this week after being closed to the public for several weeks, with law enforcement the morning the remains were found near items belonging to Brian.
“Chris and Roberta decided that, since the Myakkahatchee Park was now open to the public, they would like to go into the park and walk the trails and search for Brian,” Bertolino said.
According to Bertolino, the parents got to the park around 7 a.m. Wednesday and met with the North Port Police Department. When the parents went into the park, Bertolino said law enforcement followed close behind.
“As they walked into the preserve, they walked down the path that had been searched and looked many times before,” Bertolino told us. “Now Chris started to go off the path into the woods. Chris described to me that he was searching in the woods in a zig-zag pattern, apparently law enforcement was doing the same thing and Roberta was maintaining the trail. She was on the trail.”
At some point, Bertolino said, Chris Laundrie found a white dry bag that contained what looked like some of Brian’s belongings. The attorney said Chris did not want to pick the bag up but eventually did because law enforcement crews were not nearby and he didn’t want to leave it there. Bertolino added that Chris didn’t want to yell out to law enforcement because there was a news camera close by.
“[Chris] brought [the bag] toward Roberta. He confirmed with Roberta that was Brian’s belongings and momentarily after that, the law enforcement officer came out of the woods and showed Chris and Roberta a picture of a backpack,” Bertolino said. “Law enforcement said the backpack was found near some remains.”
When Chris and Roberta confirmed the backpack belonged to Brian, Bertolino said the law enforcement officer indicated it would be best for the parents to leave because the park had become an investigation scene.
Did Brian ever speak with family’s attorney?
Bertolino confirmed to 8 On Your Side he spoke with Brian before he was reported missing.
“I can tell you I last spoke to him Sept. 13 and I spoke to him Sept. 12,” he said. “Beyond that, there’s nothing further I am going to add.”