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After remains found, questions arise over justice in Gabby Petito's death

Posted at 10:20 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 00:20:02-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Will the Gabby Petito murder become a closed case, without a suspect ever being charged and justice served for her family?

It could become a very real possibility, experts indicate, after the FBI announced Wednesday investigators found remains next to items belonging to her boyfriend Brian Laundrie in a Florida reserve.

Special Agent Michael McPherson with the FBI Tampa Division said in a press conference that the items included Laundrie's backpack and notebook. The area where they found the items and remains was under water up until recently, he said.

Read - Possible human remains found in area where Brian Laundrie items were located, FBI says

It raises the question: What does this mean for the murder investigation of Petito? She was found strangled to death last month near Grand Teton National Park.

"That is going to be very difficult, without a suspect, to then make or identify the path that led to Gabby's death," said Chris Burbank, Vice President of the Center for Policing Equity and former Salt Lake City Police Chief.

Burbank is not involved in the case, but gave analysis from a law enforcement perspective. If the remains are confirmed to indeed belong to Laundrie, he said it complicates the investigation quite a bit.

Up until now, Laundrie was listed as a person of interest in Petito's death. He was wanted on a federal arrest warrant-- but only for allegedly illegally using a bank card after her murder.

"If there was probable cause-- so, enough evidence to demonstrate he was responsible for Gabby's death-- then absolutely they probably would have charged him and held him," Burbank explained. "And because there wasn't, there are some missing pieces to this investigation."

Read - Coroner says Gabby Petito's cause of death was strangulation

Burbank explained questions law enforcement will now have to answer include how long the person has been dead, and how they died.

"If this is, in fact, the perpetrator of this crime, he held with him all that took place," Burbank said.

This would leave investigators to glue the details together on their own, he indicated, and it may end up meaning no justice for the Petito family.

But, as Burbank pointed out, it doesn't necessarily mean no closure.

"You want to provide a little closure to that family," he said. "To at least say, 'This is what we believe happened, and where it happened, and when it happened.'"