OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (ABC4) – A photo of a man captured by a trail camera in Florida caught the attention of many as the search for Brian Laundrie continues. The man appeared to fit the description of Laundrie, a person of interest in the death of Gabby Petito that has not been seen in over a week.
Sam Bass captured a photo of the man on his trail camera and shared it on Facebook on Monday.
“I’m not saying this is the guy but whoever was on my trail camera this morning in Baker (Florida) strongly fits the description of Brian Laundrie,” Bass wrote on Facebook. “Authorities have been contacted but people in the North West Florida area be on the lookout.
On Tuesday, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement saying they were aware of the photo and were “actively checking it out.”
Wednesday afternoon, as the search for Laundrie continues, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office says the trail camera spotting was a case of mistaken identity. They say they have “positively identified the individual” in the image.
“The OCSO has confirmed the man is an Okaloosa County resident who acknowledged he was the one walking on the deer trail carrying his backpack,” the department says in a post to social media. “Several OCSO deputies familiar with the individual noticed the resemblance to the photo of the person spotted on the deer trail, as well as the presence of a neck tattoo.”
During their search and investigation, deputies say they found no indications Laundrie is or was in Okaloosa County.
The disappearance and death of Petito and the police hunt for Laundrie have generated a whirlwind online, with a multitude of armchair detectives and others sharing tips, possible sightings, and theories by way of TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Whether the frenzy of attention and internet sleuthing has helped the investigation is not clear, but it has illuminated the intersection between social media and the public’s fascination with true-crime stories.
“This is one of the first cases where we really see in the public spotlight just what social media can do with regards to potentially solving a case or tracking down evidence,” Ráchael Powers, an associate professor of the Department of Criminology at the University of South Florida, told ABC4 affiliate WFLA.
On the flip side, Powers said this type of access to information can overwhelm investigators.
“Someone has to sort through all of those tips to find out which ones are really relevant and can help the investigation versus which ones are well-meaning but perhaps are barking up the wrong tree,” Powers said.
For continuing coverage on the case of Gabby Petito and the search for Brian Laundrie, click here.