Brian Laundrie search: Family lawyer addresses rumors parents planted evidence in Florida swamp
With Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park briefly reopened to the public and the water level significantly lower than when Brian Laundrie disappeared in mid-September, the missing man's parents wanted to search some of his favorite spots on Wednesday, their New York-based attorney said.
By chance, 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 has raised suspicions of their authenticity among critics, said Steven Bertolino, lawyer for the laundries, who dismissed these concerns as unfounded.
With the media watching parents' every move for weeks, the possibility that they might have placed evidence seems unlikely.
“When I spoke to them Tuesday night, they said, 'We want to go to the reservation tomorrow,” Bertolino told Fox News Digital on Thursday. "What do I think of that? I told them it was a great idea and I thought we should notify law enforcement so there is no problem. "
He said he notified the authorities via text message.
"They wrote back to me saying, 'Thanks for letting me know,'" he said. "And as you could see, law enforcement was there on Wednesday morning."
The parents arrived at the park just before 7:30 a.m. Roberta put on a red backpack full of water bottles that were visible through the fabric. Chris got out of his red ram truck empty-handed.
A moment after they parked, two members of the police arrived in another pickup truck wearing hiking gear. They chased the couple into the park when Chris looked out into a handful of bushy areas from the path and Roberta stayed largely on the beaten path.
About 30 to 45 minutes after searching, they reached an area Bertolino said the parents had previously directed investigators to investigate when they were looking for Brian Laundrie.
While the parents found a white bag and other item a few meters from the path, the authorities found a separate notebook and backpack that are believed to belong to their son. They also found human remains that have not yet been identified.
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“These items were found in an area that was underwater until recently. Our evidence team is on site using all available forensic resources to investigate the area, ”said Michael McPherson, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Tampa division. "It is likely that the team will be there for several days."
Bertolino cited water levels as a factor in why the discoveries had not been made during weeks of previous searches.
The last time Chris Laundrie went to the park to look for his son on October 7th, the swamp water where Fox News Digital had access reached the edge of the trail before authorities closed the area .
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During Wednesday morning, Chris Laundrie stepped off the path into wet but drivable bushes, moved a few meters in some areas, or disappeared from view for a few minutes in others.
At around 8:02 a.m., he separated from his wife for about 12 minutes before returning. The officers went with him, but he returned alone.
Bertolino said Chris and the officers "zigzagged" through the brush during this time.
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Minutes later the laundries stepped together through a thorn bush into another clearing. There they found a white bag on the floor next to a dark object about 12 to 18 inches in diameter.
"Chris told me that he took a few things with him," said Bertolino. "I can't say for sure if it was a notebook or not."
After a whispered discussion, they put the item in their pocket and picked it up. Bertolino later told Fox News Digital that the items found there belonged to Brian Laundrie and that the parents did not want to leave them on the floor due to the presence of a reporter when they got investigators.
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So they picked it up, made their way back to the park entrance, and handed the bag to an officer. In an exclusive video from Fox News Digital, he told them that investigators had found something else in the park and advised them to go home and wait for a call.
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The parents seemed heartbroken at the officer's words before leaving the area.
The FBI later announced that authorities had discovered the notebook, backpack and human remains.
Bertolino said he believed "the chances are" the remains belong to Brian Laundrie.
The discoveries come after the water level in the marshy reserve has dropped dramatically.
"Chris only confirmed to me this morning that when he and Roberta checked, I believe it was September 14th (September) that the entire area was waist-deep or higher in the water," said Bertolino. "The FBI confirmed yesterday that this area was flooded with water until recently. Obviously, when that water receded, more things were accessible."
Brian Laundrie's whereabouts have been unknown to authorities since September 13, two days after his ex-fiancé Gabby Petito's mother reported her missing. Search teams found her remains on September 19 at a campsite in Wyoming - near where her van was spotted at a campsite in late August.
Investigators later revealed that Brian Laundrie returned home to his childhood home in Florida on September 1 with Petitos Van. The family remained mothers over their whereabouts.
However, when Brian went on a hike on September 13 and did not return, Bertolino said he had notified the FBI immediately.
"We notified the FBI that night or the next morning that Brian hadn't come home from his hike," he said. "So the FBI knew from day one that Brian wasn't coming home."
This was despite a conflicting timeline offered by North Port police on the case - which said Laundrie's parents first notified them that he was missing on September 17, days after they last saw him.
Notwithstanding 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 out there looking for Brian, we can't thank them enough," he said. "We think you got every step right here. You were just polite and professional to me and the Laundrie family."
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