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'They're Kind Of Built Similarly': Police Admit Mistaking Brian Laundrie’s Mom For Him While Surveilling Family

“[The mix-up] was a direct result of a lack of cooperation from the family early on in this investigation,” North Port police spokesperson Josh Taylor told Oxygen.com 

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Police in Florida admit that they mistook Brian Laundrie’s mom for the now-notorious traveler the week he vanished.

Josh Taylor, public information officer for the North Port police department, confirmed to Oxygen.com via email on Tuesday that investigators thought they spotted Laundrie, 23, entering his home days before his parents reported him missing. However, they later discovered that the person was actually his mother, Roberta.

“It is accurate,” he said. “It was what our surveillance teams believed as we were working hard to figure out what we were dealing with.”

The police department was watching Brian and his parents Chris and Roberta after Brian’s girlfriend Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11. The couple was in the midst of a cross-country trip when Petito went missing in late August. Brian had returned to his parents’ home in North Port without Petito at the beginning of September. By Sept. 13 ⁠— as news about Petito’s disappearance gained traction in the national media ⁠— Brian left his family’s home to venture into the Carlton Reserve in North Port, Florida, near where his remains were found last week. Laundrie family lawyer Steven Bertolino told Oxygen.com last week that he was "distraught" at the time. His parents reported him missing on Sept. 17.

North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told reporters that before the missing persons report, they believed Brian was inside his home.

"When the family reported him on Friday, that was certainly news to us that they had not seen him," Taylor explained to WINK News. "We thought we'd seen Brian initially come back into that home on that Wednesday."

Taylor explained that an investigator witnessed Roberta, wearing a baseball cap, pulling up to the home in Brian’s Mustang on Wednesday, Sept. 15. Later investigators learned the Brian abandoned the car near the reserve and that his parents went to pick it up. Before they picked it up, the North Port police left a parking ticket on the car.

"They're kind of built similarly," Taylor told WINK News, comparing the mother and son.

Bertolino refuted that claim over text to Oxygen.com on Tuesday.

"Everyone makes mistakes," he said. "But Brian and Roberta are not 'built' the same. Moreover, it was NPPD [North Port Police Department] that put the ticket on the Mustang at the park and if they saw Brian leave on Monday in the Mustang, which is news to me, then they should have been watching the Mustang and the park starting on Monday and they would have known it was Chris and Roberta that retrieved the Mustang from the park."

He added, "Now to be clear, none of this may have made a difference with respect to Brian’s life but it certainly would have prevented all of the false accusations leveled by so many against Chris and Roberta with respect to 'hiding' Brian or otherwise financing an 'escape.'" In the end LE [law enforcement] searchers did their best to locate Brian and their efforts are appreciated."

Brian Laundrie Gabby Petito Ig

Taylor told Oxygen.com that the information about this mix-up has been released so that the public can “better understand why we thought we knew Brian was in his home.”

He blamed the Laundrie family, who were uncooperative with police in the week that Petito was reported missing, for the mishap.

“It was a direct result of a lack of cooperation from the family early on in this investigation,” he stated.

Bertolino is also disputing that characterization, telling Oxygen.com that "you can’t blame the family because the police didn’t know enough to follow someone they were obviously surveilling. This is a tragedy for two families and any mistakes made by anyone or any entity involved should be acknowledged and used to train or educate others so the mistakes are not repeated."

Taylor asserts that the mistake was not a costly one.

“This misidentification did not have a big impact on costs and the investigation,” he told Oxygen.com. “Other than confusion, it likely changed nothing. There is a very good possibility that Brian was already deceased. He still needed to be found.”

Bertolino concurred that Brian may have already been dead at the time of the mother-son mix-up.

Brian’s remains were positively identified Thursday evening using dental records. Bertolino confirmed to Oxygen.com on Monday that an autopsy of the remains came up inconclusive. No cause of death has yet been determined. The remains have been passed on to an anthropologist for further evaluation.

Brian was named a person of interest in the disappearance of Petito, whose remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 19. An autopsy revealed that the 22-year-old travel blogger had been strangled to death. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Brian’s arrest last month for the unauthorized use of a debit or credit card following Petito’s disappearance.

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