The police chief in North Port, Florida, admitted human error played a role in the manhunt for Brian Laundrie, who was sought as a person of interest in the disappearance and death of ex-girlfriend Gabby Petito.
North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told reporters on Monday that police made a mistake when they saw Laundrie outside the home of his parents on Sept. 15. However, they later learned that it was actually Laundrie’s mother—not the fugitive.
“As a leader, what do I do?” Garrison said at a forum. “People want open transparency and honesty from their law enforcement officials.”
“Yes, we made a mistake,” he added. “It was human error, but I still stand behind my team.”
Garrison, however, said that the error didn’t derail the investigation and search for Laundrie’s wherabouts. He said Laundrie went missing a day earlier or may have already died.
“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.
Last month, officials found human remains in a wildlife preserve that was determined to be Laundrie’s. He was sought as a person of interest in the disappearance of Petito, who was reported missing by her family on Sept. 11, and later, he was charged by the FBI for alleged bank fraud.
Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said during the same Florida forum that Laundrie was likely dead when officials mistakenly believed Laundrie’s mother was him. Hoffman then alleged Laundrie killed himself.
“That guy went out there and by all accounts probably committed suicide and he was right out there where we thought he was,” Hoffman said, as reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “There was four feet of water out there at the time.”
Petito’s body was discovered in Wyoming on Sept. 19. Laundrie’s remains were located on Oct. 21 near the Carlton Reserve, although his cause of death hasn’t yet been determined.
Authorities in Wyoming determined Petito’s cause of death was strangulation and ruled her manner of death a homicide. A suspect was never named in the case, however.
The FBI at the time did not list a cause of death for Laundrie. It wasn’t clear how long the remains may have been submerged in water.
The couple was stopped on Aug. 12 by police in Moab, Utah, after they had an altercation, but no domestic violence charges were filed against them. The police department in Moab announced it is conducting an internal review to determine if policy was followed.