TAMPA, Fla. — A former FBI profiler in Tampa says the social media trail of clues in the disappearance of Gabby Petito can only take investigators so far.
Dr. Bryanna Fox, an associate criminology professor at the University of South Florida, says police need the cooperation of Petito's fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
Law enforcement officials are currently searching for Laundrie in a nature reserve near his home. He has been missing since Friday night.
Fox said a polygraph test could be one way for law enforcement to try and convince Laundrie to talk and find out more information about the case.
"If I were a police officer, in that case, I'd probably be trying to get him to take a polygraph," Fox said. "The way they ask questions and the way they asked it so many times, it's really difficult to not give away even some information that could be potentially incriminating, if there is information that's incriminating available.
Prior to Laundrie's disappearance, his attorney said he had advised his client not to talk to the police.
"In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this...regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito's disappearance," the attorney said.
Fox said that without Laundrie's cooperation, police might not be able to fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together.
"There's just so much that doesn't add up. And if you put yourself in your shoes and those shoes, and think what would I have done? It's just such a far departure from the fact pattern that we see playing out," Fox said. "In this case, it seems like an extreme amount of information is being lost since Brian Laundrie is not cooperating. For one, he was the last person to see her alive. For two, he drove the van back to Florida without her being with him. So, there are so many questions that need to be answered, and I'm sure that's exactly what police are looking at."
On Sunday, the FBI announced that authorities had recovered a body matching Petito's description near Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, the place where she had last been seen alive. Forensic identification is pending.
Thousands of internet sleuths are currently searching through Petito's Instagram posts and YouTube videos in the hopes of finding any clue as to what happened to her.
Fox said those citizen "detectives" could either help or hurt a case.
"We found that social media help to find people safer, sooner," Fox said. "The downside is that sometimes with both media and social media coverage, police can become overwhelmed with all of the facts that are coming into them — sifting through what's relevant, what's not, what's that needle in a haystack. And, in some cases, they may actually lose time or ground when it's so important, particularly in missing persons cases."
This story was originally published by Michael Paluska on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.