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North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison has admitted to “human error” in the case against Brian Laundrie, as authorities say its likely the 23-year-old committed suicide.
Garrison addressed the investigation at a forum for members of the South County Tiger Bay Club Friday, saying that his department “made a mistake” on Sept. 15 when they mistook someone entering the Laundrie home as Brian, only to later realize it had been his mother Roberta Laundrie, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Brian left the home two days earlier to head to Sarasota County’s 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve—where his body was ultimately found earlier this month by investigators.
“As a leader, what do I do?” Garrison said of realizing the mistake. “Do I not tell the public what’s going on, do we conceal it, cover it up?”
“No, people want open transparency and honesty from their law enforcement officials,” he went on to say. “Yes, we made a mistake, it was human error, but I still stand behind my team.”
He said he wanted to be truthful with the public about why the mix-up happened and why he initially told media that investigators were certain of Brian’s whereabouts.
The mistake was why Garrison said he later told the media that he knew exactly where Brian was—only for his parents to officially report him missing on Sept. 17.
“There was nobody more surprised about that than me,” he said.
He added that he had hoped the missing persons report had been a “ploy.”
“In fact, when my officers went out to the house to do the report with the FBI, I sat with the deputy chief in my office, hoping they would find Brian hiding in a back bedroom,” he said.
Garrison also reminded attendees that when Gabby Petito was first reported missing by her mom on Sept. 11, the case was initially being handled by police in Suffolk County, New York.
The North Port Police didn’t take over as the lead investigator in the case until the afternoon of Sept. 15.
“Now, we know that, by the time we became the lead agency, Brian had already left the house and presumably had already been deceased out in the Carlton Reserve,” he said, according to the local paper.
Brian’s remains were discovered in the nature reserve on Oct. 20 after more than a month of searching the massive park, according to Fox News.
The coroner’s autopsy report was ruled “inconclusive,” according to NBC News, but Florida authorities said on Friday that it was likely Brian had taken his own life.
“That guy went out there and by all accounts probably committed suicide and he was right out there where we thought he was,” Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said at the forum. “There was four feet of water out there at the time.”
Hoffman—whose agency had helped search for Brian—praised the North Port Police for their efforts to find the missing 23-year-old.
“We talked probably 20 times during that situation and obviously we supported them out in the preserve looking for Brian Laundrie,” he said of why investigators stayed focused on the nature reserve despite reports of other sightings. “I told them; you guys were right—he and the deputy chief were right.”
Petito’s remains were found on Sept. 19 in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where she had last been seen with Brian before she disappeared.
Brian was named a person of interest in her disappearance, but was never formally declared a suspect in her murder.
A medical examiner who reviewed the body determined the 22-year-old had been strangled to death.
It was a tragic end to the couple’s cross-country trek to visit the nation’s national parks—which they often documented on social media and YouTube—and has sparked new discussion across the country about domestic violence.
"The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media" will air on Oxygen on Monday, January 24 at 9/8c. It's also available to stream on Peacock now.
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