Police in North Port, Florida, on Monday acknowledged in a TV interview that police mistook Brian Laundrie's mother for him while running surveillance on Laundrie, the now-deceased "person of interest" in the strangulation killing of his fiancee Gabrielle Petito.
The mistake happened in the crucial days last month after Laundrie went hiking in a wildlife reserve where his body was found about a month later, police said.
North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor, in an interview with WINK-TV, a CBS-affiliated station in Fort Myers, Florida, said police surveilling Laundrie after Petito’s family reported her missing Sept. 11 thought they had seen Laundrie return home from the reserve on Sept. 15 – two days after he told his parents he was going there on a hike. But it was actually Laundrie’s mother Roberta Laundrie who was driving the silver Ford Mustang. The parents filed a missing persons report on Sept. 17.
"I believe it was his mom, who was wearing a baseball cap," Taylor said in an interview with the TV station. "They had returned from the park with that Mustang. So who does that, right? If you think your son’s missing since Tuesday, you’re gonna bring his car back to the home? So it didn’t make sense that anyone would do that if he wasn’t there. So the individual getting out with a baseball cap, we thought was Brian."
Taylor added of the mother and son: "They’re kind of built similarly."
When pressed again about the error, Taylor said, "No case is perfect."
Taylor didn’t respond Monday evening to a request for comment from Newsday.
Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino said in response: "Everyone makes mistakes. But Brian and Roberta are not 'built' the same. Moreover, it was NPPD that put the ticket on the Mustang at the park, and if they saw Brian leave on Monday in the Mustang, which is news to me, then they should have been watching the Mustang and the park starting on Monday and they would have known it was Chris and Roberta that retrieved the Mustang from the park."
Bertolino, who has said he told the FBI on Sept. 13 that Laundrie didn’t return home before the parents filed a missing persons report that Friday, added: "Now to be clear, none of this may have made a difference with respect to Brian’s life, but it certainly would have prevented all of the false accusations leveled by so many against Chris and Roberta with respect to 'hiding' Brian or otherwise financing an ‘escape.’"
Laundrie’s skeletal remains were found last week in the reserve after weeks of searching by law enforcement. An anthropologist is examining the remains to determine the cause and manner of death.
Petito, 22, a Blue Point native, and Laundrie, 23, were on a cross-country road trip when she stopped communicating with her family in late August. Laundrie returned home alone to Florida in her van on Sept. 1 and refused to speak to investigators when she was reported missing 10 days later.
Laundrie’s parents had said Laundrie left home on Sept. 13 to go hiking at the Carlton Reserve but never returned home. They initially said it was Sept. 14, but later amended the date. The parents had said they searched the reserve twice themselves before bringing home the Mustang, which was ticketed by police.
North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison had said during a news conference on Sept. 16 that he knew were Laundrie was when asked by reporters.
"When the family reported him on Friday, that was certainly news to us that they had not seen him," Taylor told the TV station. "We thought that we’d seen Brian initially come back into that home on that Wednesday."