Staff Report

NORTH PORT — A statement by Gabrielle Petito’s family attorney shows the FBI may still be contemplating criminal charges for people involved in the case — and gives insight into why the investigation remains open.

Petito died of strangulation, her body left in a remote area of a national park in Wyoming for weeks before investigators found it Sept. 19.

She had been “throttled,” the Wyoming medical examiner reported, her killer facing her while choking her to death.

Attorney Richard Stafford issued a brief statement Tuesday, a few hours after the medical examiner’s office in Sarasota released its autopsy report for Brian Laundrie. Laundrie, Petito’s boyfriend, was the only suspect named in the case involving her murder in Wyoming.

Laundrie had died by suicide, a gunshot to the head, the investigation determined.

However, neither the FBI nor local law enforcement have released details of their findings to the public, since Petito’s murder case and the related investigation into Brian Laundrie’s death are still open.

The Petito family attorney’s statement offers some insight into why.

“The Schmidt and Petito family has been aware of the circumstances surrounding the suicide of the sole suspect in Gabby’s murder,” the attorney Richard Stafford said in the statement. Stafford is representing Gabrielle Petito’s mother and stepfather, Nichole Schmidt and Jim Schmidt, and her father and stepmother, Joe Petito and Tara Petito, whom he represents.

“The family was asked to not comment and let the FBI continue their investigation and allow the United States Attorney’s Office to make a determination on whether any additional individuals will be charged,” the statement read.

Investigators found Brian Laundrie’s remains Oct. 25 in the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve in South Sarasota County, just across a narrow canal from the North Port city limits.

Laundrie had been staying with his parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie, at their home on Wabasso Avenue in North Port, when police and FBI agents contacted them regarding Petito’s disappearance. The two had been on a trip together in a van out west.

Laundrie’s parents reported him missing, saying he was last seen Sept. 13, and heading for the Carlton Reserve and the adjacent Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park.

Despite a massive search of both wilderness areas, law enforcement did not find Brian Laundrie’s remains until the park areas were reopened Oct. 25, and Laundrie’s parents went there that morning with police.

Chris Laundrie found Laundrie’s backpack in an area that had previously been flooded by swampy waters. Investigators found Brian Laundrie’s body shortly after, investigators reported.

Almost a month later, Medical Examiner’s Office stated that reports connected to the Brian Laundrie investigation would not be made public until “the law enforcement investigation is complete.”

The investigation included a complete examination of the recovered skeletal remains and consultation with a forensic odontologist, including dental comparison for identification and skeletal reconstruction, the medical examiner stated.

Investigators also used DNA analysis to confirm Brian Laundrie’s identity, the report stated.

Laundrie’s parents had been notified about the autopsy results about an hour before the official statement.

“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was suicide,” the Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino said in a statement. “Chris and Roberta are still mourning the loss of their son and are hopeful that these findings bring closure to both families.”

The only charge made in the case so far came in the form of a federal arrest warrant, issued by the U.S. District Court of Wyoming, following a grand jury indictment against Brian Laundrie and “related to Mr. Laundrie’s activities following the death of Gabrielle Petito.”

The indictment accuses Brian Laundrie of illegally using a bank card in Wyoming following Petito’s death.

Details of that case have not been made public, since it is still open.

One related investigation that was released to the public occurred in Moab, Utah, where police stopped and questioned Brian Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito following a call that they were physically fighting on a public street. Police released the video of their conversation with Laundrie and Petito a few days after they reported her missing.

HELPING OTHERS

Gabrielle Petito’s parents and stepparents recently shared details about her to Mehmet Oz on the “Dr. Oz Show” Nov. 16. They said they never saw any signs that Brian Laundrie was violent toward their daughter.

Petito’s father, Joe Petito, said he thought Brian Laundrie hid his true self from the family.

Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, was in Wyoming when investigators found her remains Sept. 19. He called the other parents and they were all together as the initial autopsy took place.

During the interview with Oz, Joseph Petito said they must move forward with finding other missing persons and combating domestic violence through the new Gabby Petito Foundation

“It would eat us alive to focus on the parts of the story that should anger us,” he said. “So we have to look at what Gabby would have wanted us to do going forward.”

Gabrielle’s stepmother, Tara Petito, said prior to marrying Joseph, she was in an abusive relationship. She is frustrated she didn’t pick up on any signs from Gabby.

“I cry every night,” Tara told Oz. “I stare at pictures and it’s hard.”

Nichole Schmidt, Gabrielle’s mom, agreed.

“We’re not OK,” she said. “But we have this (the foundation) and we have each other. We are going to help a lot of people and that’s what keeps us going. I wish we could take a road trip. We should have done it when we were younger. That’s why I encouraged it. I believed she could do it.”

Gabrielle’s stepfather said he misses “her smile, her love of life and her laugh.”

“I think she’s happy that we are doing this,” he said. “She’s guiding us for sure.”

Staff writers Elaine Allen-Emrich and Chris Porter contributed to this report.

Email: elaine.allen@yoursun.com

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