OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) – Authorities in Northwest Florida have said they are aware of a photo that shows someone who “fits the description” of Brian Laundrie walking on a trail in Okaloosa County, according to WKRG.
Sam bass took a picture of the man on his tracking camera and shared it on Facebook.
“I’m not saying it’s the guy, but the one that was on my surveillance camera this morning in Baker, Fla. Fits Brian Laundrie’s description perfectly,” Bass wrote on Facebook. âAuthorities have been contacted, but residents of the Northwest Florida area are on the lookout.
The photo has been shared over 23,000 times on Facebook. The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Tuesday and said it was aware of the photo.
âWe wanted to let you know that we are aware of this report and are actively reviewing it,â the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said. “There is no confirmation of this information. Obviously, we will keep everyone informed if and when there is anything to report.”
Gabby Petito’s disappearance and almost certain death and the police stalking of her boyfriend have generated a whirlwind online, with a plethora of wheelchair detectives and others sharing tips, possible sightings and theories via TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
It is not known whether the attention spree and internet sleuths helped the investigation, but it highlighted the intersection between social media and the public’s fascination with real-life crime stories.
“This is one of the first instances where we really see in the spotlight what social media can do in regards to potentially resolving a case or finding evidence,” RÃ¡chael Powers, associate professor in the department of criminology from the University of South Florida, said WFLA.
On the flip side, Powers said this type of access to information can overwhelm investigators.
âSomeone has to sort through all of these tips to find out which ones are really relevant and can help the investigation versus which ones are well-meaning but maybe barking in the wrong tree,â Powers said.
Months before her disappearance, she drew more than half a billion views on TikTok, Petito, 22, and her boyfriend, 23, Brian Laundrie, left Florida on a trip across the country during summer in a van she decorated in boho-chic style.
They documented their adventure on video and invited social media users to follow the trip, sharing scenes of a seemingly happy couple cartwheels on a beach, hiking mountain trails and camping in the desert. from Utah.
But they got into a fight along the way, and Laundrie drove home alone in the van in September. Over the weekend, a body believed to be Petito’s was discovered on the edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Investigators did not say how she died, but identified the now-missing laundromat as a person of interest.
Social media users were mesmerized by the case and pored over the wealth of videos and photos online for clues.
âA lot of it has to do with the trip across the country that they were documenting, taking to social media on this great adventure,â said Joseph Scott Morgan, professor of forensic pathology at State University of Jacksonville and an authority on high profile murder cases. And he added: âThey are young people, they are attractive people. “
Another source of fascination: A police body camera video, released last week, showing the couple after being arrested in August in Moab, Utah, where the van was seen accelerating and colliding a sidewalk. They had fought and Petito was in tears, Laundrie claiming that tension had set in between them because they had been traveling together for months.
Theories and observations have gained traction on Reddit, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter.
Users took a look at Petito’s Spotify music playlists, Laundrie’s playing habits, and the couple’s digitally tagged tracks. A TikTok user said he hitchhiked Laundrie.
And a couple who document their bus trips on YouTube said they viewed some of their video footage near Grand Teton and spotted what they said was the couple’s white van. They posted a picture of it with a big red arrow pointing at it and the words, “We found Gabby Petito’s van.” They said this is what led investigators to the area where the body was found.
The FBI did not say what led to the discovery or say if other Internet sleuth tricks helped.
Michael Alcazar, a retired New York City detective and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Petito’s Instagram account gives investigators starting points and social media has become a rich source of advice.
âInstagram is a lot like the photo on the milk carton except it quickly reaches so many people,â he said.
On the flip side, some users have been spreading disinformation, pointing out potential sightings of Petito and Laundrie that turned out to be false.
Hannah Matthews, a TikTok user from Salt Lake City, admitted to obsessing over the case, saying she identified with Petito and thought it could have been her. She made 14 short videos detailing the theories on what could have gone wrong and providing updates on the case. One of them suggests that Petito didn’t write one of his Instagram posts. It got almost 2 million views.
“It just seemed like a weird case from the start and after doing more research and (collaborating) with other people on social media, the case just kept growing and having twists and turns,” a- she declared.
As of Tuesday, the #gabbypetito hashtag received more than 650 million views on TikTok. For comparison, #FreeBritney articles about pop star Britney Spears’ attempt to end her tutelage have been viewed $ 1.9 billion.
“There are a lot of different complicated reasons people are drawn to this, and it’s not all sinister or malicious or scary,” said Kelli Boling, professor of advertising and public relations at the University of Nebraska. -Lincoln who studied the public reception for podcasts on real crime.
She said people fascinated by such cases are sometimes victims of domestic violence who find this material can help them cope with their own experiences.
“Some people are really drawn to it by a place of healing or by the desire to find justice for the young woman,” Boling said.
While expressing sympathy for Petito, some have detected what they see as a racial double standard, complaining that the media and online detectives are heavily invested in the case because she is young and white.
“There are a lot of women of color, and especially immigrant women, it happens all the time, and we never hear about it,” said Alex Piquero, a criminologist at the University of Miami.
In the same state where Petito was found, at least 710 Native Americans were reported missing between 2011 and the end of 2020.
Additionally, an LGBT couple who lived in a van were reported missing and later found gunned down at a campsite near Moab, shortly after Petito and her boyfriend were arrested by police. The deaths of Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner generated some media coverage but nothing to do with the Petito affair.
The case also came at a time when interest in traveling across the country, particularly in vans or recreational vehicles, is at its peak, possibly in reaction to the isolation imposed on people by the COVID-19 epidemic. The couple’s plans looked like something out of a romantic flick gone awry, Piquero said.
âIt has all that air of intrigue,â he said. âPeople have a real fantasy that they can solve crimes. “
The Associated Press contributed to this report.