Why wasn't Brian Laundrie detained after Gabby Petito went missing? Police 'should have kept track of him,' former prosecutors say.

·4 min read
Brian Laundrie in the desert with a cop behind him
Brian Laundrie was reported missing by his parents, just days after his fiancée Gabby Petito was also reported missing. The Moab Police Department via AP
  • Police are still searching for Brian Laundrie, the fiancé of Gabby Petito and a person of interest in her disappearance.

  • Laundrie's parents reported him missing just days after Petito's family reported her missing. The FBI has ruled Petito's death a homicide.

  • Former prosecutors told Insider what procedures or mishaps likely led to Laundrie's disappearance.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The case of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old blogger who went missing while on a road trip with her fiancé, took a more devastating turn on Tuesday when the manner of her death was ruled a homicide.

Shortly after her family's lawyer confirmed to Insider Tuesday that human remains found in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest belonged to Petito, the FBI confirmed her death was by homicide.

Petito was reported missing by her family in New York on September 11, 10 days after her boyfriend Brian Laundrie returned home to Florida from a cross-country road trip out West in the van the couple had been driving in - but without Petito. Laundrie, who would be identified as a person of interest in Petito's disappearance, had retained a lawyer and refused to speak with authorities. At the time, Florida police did not detain Laundrie, although they said they needed to speak with him for the investigation.

"Right now we don't have a crime. We have a concern of a crime," North Port PD's Josh Taylor said.

Days later, Laundrie's family told police he was missing. His whereabouts have remained unknown since last Tuesday.

Read more: A timeline of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie's road trip that ended in her death

Former Florida prosecutor Vincent Citro said police likely warned Laundrie to stay nearby as the search for Petito continued in Wyoming, but they may not have had "sufficient probable cause" to detain him. Citro added that arresting a suspect too soon could damage the prosecution's case later on.

"When you arrest somebody, it triggers certain things. The timeline to bring formal charges, which means you automatically put a horizon, an end date, if you will, on your investigation. And that always is problematic, especially when the body hasn't been found yet, or there's still a belief that the person's going to be found alive," Citro told Insider.

Citro said it's unlikely that police were tailing Laundrie because it is expensive and requires extensive personnel. However, Former Wyoming prosecutor Christina Williams said it was a "lapse in judgment" if police opted not to track Laundrie.

North Port PD did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.

"They should have kept track of him," Williams told Insider. "She's missing. There's the potential that she could be deceased. The flight risk of someone in that scenario, that's a suspect or that, you know, was seen with her last, is great."

Citro said if Laundrie is found alive, police would likely arrest him, although it is unclear whether he would be charged with murder.

"If they had the option to detain him, they will. It would not be their preference to let him remain free. I suspect they may not find him alive either," Citro said.

Read more: Brian Laundrie could face the death penalty if he winds up charged with murder in the death of Gabby Petito, experts say

The scale of the area being scoured for Laundrie, the Carlton Reserve in Florida, covers about 80 miles of hiking trails, most of which are currently flooded, and is reportedly home to alligators, snakes, and panthers. Police said Laundrie could potentially hide out in the wildlife reserve "for months."

His parents, who said Laundrie had gone hiking and did not return, were reportedly escorted out of their home on Monday as the FBI raided and declared it a crime scene.

Citro said prosecutors likely wouldn't charge Laundrie's parents, who declined to make Brian available to speak with police earlier in the investigation, unless they have "really good evidence that they did something."

"These are his parents," Citro said. "Whether they knew what he had done, what they knew, what he had said to them, who they believed all make those things a little hairy for prosecution."

Williams said if Laundrie is found deceased, the entire case would likely come to a close unless the Petito family pursues a civil suit.

"I would guess that that would be the end of it," Williams told Insider. "And, unfortunately, no one sees any justice in that scenario."

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