Brian Laundrie parents may have confessed what they knew about Gabby Petito murder to avoid obstruction charges according to former FBI agent.
Christopher and Roberta Laundrie joined the hunt for their fugitive son Wednesday and within hours cops had finally located the wanted fugitive’s backpack, notepad and possible remains in Florida swampland after directing authorities where to search.
Authorities said the breakthrough – five weeks into the manhunt – came after receding water levels allowed greater access to some of keen hiker Brian’s favorite trails and hangouts in the alligator-infested Carlton Nature Reserve.
But the discovery may not have necessarily occurred had Chris and Roberta not been potentially threatened with legal repercussions according to former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan.
Speaking to the dailymail the former FBI agent surmised that authorities may have issued the Laundries with a behind-the-scenes ultimatum: ‘help us find Brian or face years behind bars yourselves.’
Torn between protecting their son and legal obligations
‘There’s no doubt that Brian Laundrie’s parents are fully engaged with law enforcement,’ Kaplan told the tabloid.
‘I do believe that there was some sort of agreement where they accepted immunity in exchange for their full cooperation.’
Despite a rash of unconfirmed sightings across the US, police and FBI search teams had maintained a laser focus on the sprawling Carlton Reserve ever since Laundrie, 23, was reported missing by his parents on September 17.
Gabby’s remains were found two days later at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Ground in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
The 22-year-old travel vlogger’s death was declared a homicide by strangling and Laundrie – who came home from a cross-country road trip without her on September 1 – remains the only confirmed person of interest.
‘I think from the very beginning that Brian Laundrie’s parents were torn between wanting to protect their son and not wanting to cross a line that would put them in the crosshairs of law enforcement,’ added Kaplan, now a criminal defense lawyer.
‘If you lie to a federal agent, mislead them or give them false information that can lead to prosecution for obstruction of justice and you could be looking at five years in jail. And it’s an easy trap to fall into.’
Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino says he instructed Brian’s parents initially not to speak to authorities or Gabby Petito’s family.
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Cat and mouse game
Christopher, 62, and Roberta, 55, initially told the North Port Police Department they last saw their son when he headed off to go hiking at the reserve on September 14, leaving his Ford Mustang parked nearby and never returning to it.
The couple came under renewed scrutiny, however, when they suddenly ‘revised’ their timeline, saying through their attorney, Steven Bertolino, that they last saw him on the evening of September 13.
‘The probability is strong that it is Brian’s remains, but we’re going to wait for the forensic results to come in and verify that,’ Bertolino told CNN on Wednesday night.
He said Christopher and Roberta would wait until a final determination was made before making any comment.
To date the couple have not said a single word publicly about Brian and Gabby, who got engaged last year and lived under their roof before they headed off in July for a ‘doomed’ road trip in a converted van.
Retired FBI agent Jennifer Coffindaffer went on to tell the dailymail that if Laundrie’s parents knew his whereabouts, they could be vulnerable to aiding and abetting charges but cautioned that authorities would need compelling evidence in the event Brian was confirmed dead.
What did Brian reveal to his parents upon returning without Gabby?
‘That evidence could include text messages telling him to run or telling him they were going to destroy evidence,’ Coffindaffer speculated.
‘There’s no blood involved in a strangulation but there could be some cells on his clothing. I think the strongest possibility would be an obstruction charge on the cleaning of the Petito van.’
Without such evidence there is nothing, however, that prosecutors can do to force Christopher and Roberta Laundrie into revealing what Brian told them in the 12 days he spent at home before disappearing under the noses of police.
‘They can’t be compelled. But you would hope, especially since now that it appears their son is dead, that if they are decent people they will disclose what they know,’ Coffindaffer added.
‘The guilt builds and I would not be surprised at all if one of them came forward, eventually, although it could take a long time.’
At a briefing Wednesday afternoon FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson confirmed that human remains had been found in an area of the 24,000-acre Carlton Reserve that was previously submerged in water.
The reserve has been reopened to the public but Bertolino told NewsNation that he contacted police on Tuesday to tell them the Laundries wanted to resume the search personally now that the water level had receded.
Christopher Laundrie had previously joined investigators to look for his son but this was the first time he was accompanied by his wife.
Bertolino said the parents spread out on either side of a trail. A short while later Christopher found a bag containing some of Brian’s items while a cop accompanying Roberta found the backpack.
On the one-month anniversary of the discovery of Gabby Petito’s remains, the parents of her fugitive boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, reportedly spent the day running errands — and dodging questions about what happened when their son returned to Florida without her. pic.twitter.com/gnbJm1pBnh
— HÜSEYİN AVNİ KEMAL (@Hak2853) October 20, 2021
What did Chris and Roberta know?
McPherson did not discuss the condition of the human remains found nearby but the painstaking use of cadaver dogs over a wide section of swamp is telling, according to his former FBI colleagues.
‘The reality is very morbid but when you’re exposed to the natural elements, wildlife can be drawn to the body. You only have to live in Florida for a brief period of time and know we’re surrounded by coyotes, alligators, bobcats, even panthers,’ Kaplan told DailyMail.com.
‘So I think the fact that you saw the cadaver dogs gridding that area leads me to believe that there were parts that would not be intact and that may have been scattered about. They may have some difficulty in retrieving the entire body.’
The FBI in Denver revealed on September 23 that Laundrie was wanted on a federal arrest warrant over the unauthorized use of a credit card, however Bertolino insists the alleged criminality occurred after Gabby’s death and is ‘not related to her actual demise’.
Nonetheless the FBI referred to the case as a murder for the first time at Wednesday’s briefing, just days after a Wyoming coroner said the cause of death was strangulation and that domestic violence played a role.
‘I think Brian went there to kill himself,’ added Coffindaffer. ‘The fact that he left behind his wallet and his phone, leads me to believe that he planned this.
‘It’s terribly sad for the Petitos but there’s no way to get closure, honestly, if he doesn’t go to trial. And it looks increasingly like that’s going to be the case here.’