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Brian Laundrie autopsy results bring even more questions about Gabby Petito's death

Many questions remain on the particular legal challenges this case continues to present.

[UPDATE (Nov. 23, 2021, 3:15 p.m. ET): Brian Laundrie died from a gunshot wound to the head and his manner of death was a suicide, according to a statement from an attorney for the Laundrie family released on Tuesday.]

On Monday, an autopsy report ruled the cause of death of Brian Laundrie, the 23-year-old man cited as a “person of interest” in the homicide of his fiancée, Gabby Petito, as “inconclusive.” The autopsy ruling is the latest loose end in what feels like a tangle of loose ends in the effort to uncover the circumstances of both deaths.

There are also the questions about what Laundrie’s family truly knew about his whereabouts leading up to his disappearance on Sept. 13.

Now that Laundrie’s remains have been located, the unanswered questions abound: Did Laundrie die by suicide out of guilt or out of the fear of being arrested and charged with murder in Petito’s death, or did some unknown perpetrator kill him? Did an animal, like an alligator, attack Laundrie in the reserve, resulting in his death? Did Laundrie die from natural causes, such as exposure or hunger?

There are also the questions about what Laundrie’s family truly knew about his whereabouts leading up to his disappearance on Sept. 13. Why were his parents able to so quickly locate his remains after authorities spent weeks searching for him? The notebook found near Laundrie’s remains could hold the key to answering several of these questions, so we will have to wait and see what the police release to the public about its contents, if they are salvageable.

Laundrie’s body was discovered Wednesday morning in Florida’s Carlton Reserve after weeks of intense searching. The circumstances of the discovery are arguably suspicious. Law enforcement authorities scoured that park for more than five weeks, yet on the morning Laundrie’s parents arrived to assist in the search, his remains were quickly found, as well as a backpack and some of his other belongings, including the notebook.

Authorities say the area where Laundrie’s remains were found was originally underwater and had dried out because of less inclement weather, which might explain why they were unable to find his remains previously. However, recall that, according to the North Port Police Department, Laundrie’s parents did not notify the police of Laundrie’s disappearance until Sept. 17, four days after he allegedly left to go for a hike in Carlton Reserve.

The Laundries’ family attorney claims that the family notified the FBI of his failure to return home the day he left for his hike, but it seems incredible that the police would get something as critical as that date wrong.

More important, his family has yet to advise the police why they, as well as Laundrie, refused to cooperate with authorities since his return to Florida (without Petito), even though they knew the police urgently needed to learn more about Petito’s disappearance. It is also odd that Laundrie would leave his wallet and his cellphone behind when he went for his hike, unless perhaps he did not want his location to be tracked by way of his cellphone.

It's important to remember that Laundrie was never named a suspect in her death but a “person of interest.”

After Petito’s body was found on Sept. 19, the cause of her death was determined to be manual strangulation/throttling, and her manner of death was ruled a homicide. As the coroner has placed her time of death about three to four weeks from the time her body was discovered, that would mean she was killed some time from Aug. 22 to Aug. 29. Laundrie returned to Florida, without Petito, on Sept. 1.

Still, it's important to remember that Laundrie was never named a suspect in her death but a “person of interest.” In fact, after Petito’s body was discovered, the only charges he faced were the unauthorized use of two debit cards and bank accounts. (Specifically, a federal grand jury in Wyoming indicted him for unauthorized use of a debit card and a PIN number from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 for accounts that did not belong to him.)

The fact that Laundrie was not charged with Petito’s death most likely means the police are still conducting their investigation and did not have enough evidence at this point to charge him before he disappeared and died.

So where does the investigation into the death of Petito go now? Does it stop, or can it keep on going? And if it keeps going, what are the prospects of any kind of satisfactory end that would give closure to both of the families?

The police will continue to investigate the death of Petito while factoring in Laundrie’s death and any evidence obtained from that event. There are the unknown results of the search warrant executed last month for an external hard drive in the van Petito and Laundrie used for their cross-country trip. There are the witnesses who have been speaking with authorities about their observations of the interactions between Petito and Laundrie during their “van life” road trip, including moments of visible anger and violence. Authorities will certainly continue to look into Laundrie’s family to determine whether it assisted him in any way with evading law enforcement or spoliation of evidence.

Interestingly, and still oddly without further explanation or any details, the Laundrie family’s attorney has told the media that his clients have been cooperating with the FBI “since day one” of Laundrie’s disappearance but that they “had absolutely nothing to say” about Petito. The attorney has further gone on record saying, in response to being asked whether Laundrie told his parents anything about Petito before he went on his hike: “Not something I can comment on right now. I’d like to just leave it at that.”

Rest assured, law enforcement will continue to pursue leads and clues, and the public will continue to ask questions, regardless of the Laundrie family’s reluctance to speak.