Brian Laundrie search: Family lawyer addresses rumors parents planted evidence in North Port park
NORTH PORT, Fla. - With the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park briefly reopened to the public, and water levels significantly lower than in mid-September, when Brian Laundrie vanished, the missing man's parents wanted to go in and search some of his favorite haunts Wednesday, according to their New York-based attorney.
As it happened, Chris and Roberta Laundrie led authorities to several items believed to have belonged to their son — and human remains that were not immediately identifiable.
But the proximity of the finds so close to the park entrance raised suspicions from critics as to their authenticity, said Steven Bertolino, the Laundries’ lawyer, who dismissed those concerns as unfounded.
With the media watching the parents’ every move for weeks, the possibility that they could have planted evidence seems unlikely.
"When I spoke to them Tuesday night, they said, ‘We want to go in the preserve tomorrow," Bertolino told Fox News Digital Thursday. "What do I think about that? I told them it was a great idea, and I thought we should notify law enforcement so there's no issue."
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He said he told authorities with a text message.
"They texted me back and said, 'Thanks for the heads up,’" he said. "And as you could see, law enforcement was there on Wednesday morning."
The parents arrived at the park shortly before 7:30 a.m. Roberta put on a red backpack stuffed full of water bottles, which were visible through the fabric. Chris got out of his red Ram truck empty-handed.
A moment after they parked, two members of law enforcement arrived in another pickup truck and wearing hiking gear. They tailed the couple into the park as Chris looked off the trail into a handful of brushy areas and Roberta largely stuck to the beaten path.
Roughly 30 to 45 minutes into the search, they reached an area that Bertolino said the parents previously directed investigators to examine as they looked for Brian Laundrie.
While the parents found a white bag and another item a few yards off the trail, authorities separately found a notebook and backpack believed to have belonged to their son. They also found human remains, which have not yet been identified.
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"These items were found in an area that, up until recently, had been underwater. Our evidence response team is on scene using all available forensic resources to process the area," said Michael McPherson, special agent in charge of the FBI's Tampa division. "It's likely the team will be on scene for several days."
Bertolino brought up the water level as a factor of why the discoveries had not been made during weeks of earlier searches.
The last time Chris Laundrie went to the park to search for his son, on Oct. 7, swamp water came up to the edge of the trail in places Fox News Digital was able to access before authorities shut down the area.
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Throughout the morning Wednesday, Chris Laundrie stepped off the trail into wet but navigable brush, moving in a few feet in some areas or disappearing from view for several minutes in others.
At around 8:02 a.m., he split off from his wife for about 12 minutes before he returned. The officers left with him, but he returned alone.
Bertolino said Chris and the officers had "zigzagged" through the brush during this time.
Minutes later, the Laundries together stepped through a patch of brambles, toward another clearing. That’s where they found a white bag on the ground next to a dark object about 12 to 18 inches across.
"Chris did tell me that he grabbed some items," Bertolino said. "I can't specifically say if it was a notebook or not."
After a whispered discussion, they placed the object in the bag and picked everything up. Bertolino later told Fox News Digital that the items they found there belonged to Brian Laundrie and that the parents did not want to leave it on the ground as they went to fetch investigators due to the presence of a reporter.
So they picked it up, made their way back toward the entrance of the park and handed the bag to an officer. In exclusive Fox News Digital video, he told them that investigators found something else in the park and advised them to go home and wait for a call.
The parents appeared heartbroken at the officer’s words before exiting the area.
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The FBI later revealed that authorities had uncovered the notebook, backpack and human remains.
Bertolino said he believes "the probability is high" that the remains belong to Brian Laundrie.
The discoveries come after water levels in the swampy reserve fell dramatically.
"Chris confirmed with me just this morning that when him and Roberta looked, I believe it was on the 14th (of September), the whole area was waist-deep or higher in water," Bertolino said. "The FBI confirmed that yesterday that that area until recently had been flooded with water. When that water receded, obviously more things were accessible."
Brian Laundrie’s whereabouts have been unknown since Sept. 13, according to authorities, two days after the mother of his former fiancée, Gabby Petito, reported her missing. Search teams found her remains at a Wyoming campsite on Sept. 19 – near where her van had been spotted at a campsite in late August.
Brian Laundrie's remains were found Wednesday in an area that had been underwater until recently, according to the FBI. (North Port Police Department)
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Investigators later revealed that Brian Laundrie returned home to his parents’ house in Florida on Sept. 1, driving Petito’s van. The family remained mum about her whereabouts.
However, when Brian left for a hike on Sept. 13 and failed to return, Bertolino said he informed the FBI right away.
"We notified the FBI that night or the next morning that Brian didn't come home from his hike," he said. "So the FBI was aware that Brian didn't come home from day one."
That’s despite a conflicting timeline offered up by North Port police in the case – which stated that Laundrie’s parents first told them he was missing on Sept. 17, days after they last saw him.
Regardless of the discrepancy, Bertolino praised law enforcement for their handling of the search for Brian Laundrie.
"We can't thank the people, the men and women who are out there searching for Brian, we can't thank them enough," he said. "We think that they've done the right thing here every step of the way. They've been nothing but courteous and professional to myself and to the Laundrie family."