The viral camera photo does not show Brian Laundrie

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The claim: The surveillance camera photo shows Brian Laundrie

A trail camera photo of a man who looked like Brian Laundrie caught the attention of Internet detectives following his disappearance, generating tens of thousands of shares and comments on Facebook in less than 36 hours.

But the apparent trail was a dead end, authorities confirmed on September 22.

Sam Bass, 29, posted the viral photo hours after it was reported to local authorities and the FBI on September 20, Bass told USA TODAY.

“I’m not saying it’s the guy, but the one that was on my surveillance camera this morning fits Brian Laundrie’s description perfectly,” the post read. Laundrie is the fiance and travel companion of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old vlogger who was found dead by homicide in a Wyoming national park on September 19.

The black-and-white snapshot shows a young man wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a slung backpack. He seems to stop and watch the fog in front of him, surrounded by trees and wild grasses.

According to Bass, a motion-activated camera captured the photo at his family’s farm in Baker, Florida. Baker is about a seven-hour drive from the Carlton Preserve, where Laundrie’s car was found abandoned on September 17.

Following: TikTok is on the Gabby Petito case. Do these real crime detectives help solve it?

Social media users were quick to respond with assumptions, and soon rumors spread as well. A tweet posted just hours after the photo was released claimed the mystery had been solved.

“Breaking news! The track camera image captured this morning from Brian Laundrie in Baker, Fla. Is confirmed based on independent profile imaging technology,” the tweet now deleted claims. “He’s alive and on the move.

Screenshots of the tweet quickly spread to Facebook posts and comments. However, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office ended the rumor on September 22, when it announced the man was a local resident, not a laundry. Authorities have continued to search for the laundry since September 23.

Following: Search continues for fiance Brian Laundrie after coroner determines Gabby Petito’s death was homicide

USA TODAY contacted several Facebook users who shared the tweet.

How the research went

Law enforcement determined the trail camera photo did not show Laundrie within 48 hours, but before that the photo gained wide attention amid the online manhunt.

Shortly after Bass’s family submitted a report, Okaloosa County police visited the site around 6 p.m. and contacted the FBI, Bass said. He posted the image on Facebook around 11 p.m.

The online race to prove the man’s identity on the track camera began immediately after, with more than 2,000 users sharing in under 30 minutes, Bass told USA TODAY.

Thousands more tagged friends or left comments on the photo within hours. Some have linked a shark tooth necklace Laundrie wore to a necklace the man appeared to be wearing in the photos; some, including the creator of the widely shared tweet, looked for physical similarities between the shapes of the two men’s faces; and some said the mystery man’s backpack was the same as an Instagram story posted by Laundrie during the trip.

“I went back and found that the two bags shown in the tracking camera (pictured) were also on Brian’s Instagram account,” Alexis Ramey, who shared a tweet saying the photo showed Laundrie, said to USA TODAY on Facebook Messenger.

But it wasn’t the laundry.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Baker, Fla., Said it had conducted a “thorough search” of the area and surrounding farmland and found no trace of Laundrie on the 21st. September.

But the social media frenzy continued until September 22, when the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook that it had positively identified the man as a county resident, thanks to lawmakers who acknowledged his tattoo at the neck and likeness.

“OCSO has confirmed that the man is an Okaloosa County resident who admitted he was the one walking the deer trail with his backpack,” the post read. “During its search and investigation, OCSO found no indication that Brian Laundrie is or was in Okaloosa County.”

A seven-hour drive from the Carlton Preserve in Sarasota County, search teams and volunteer divers continued to search gator-infested and snake-infested waters for Laundrie, USA TODAY reported on September 22.

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“If he’s out there on the Carlton reservation, he’s living in hell,” local survival expert Mark Burrow told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we are evaluating FALSE the claim that a Florida runway camera photo shows Brian Laundrie FALSE. Authorities in Okaloosa County, where the photo was taken, confirmed that they had identified with certainty that the man in the photo was not Laundrie but someone else on September 22.

Our sources of fact-checking:

  • Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, September 21, statement via Facebook
  • Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, September 22, statement via Facebook
  • Sam Bass, September 20, Facebook post
  • Sam Bass, September 24, telephone interview with USA TODAY
  • Alexis Ramey, September 22, Facebook Messenger correspondence
  • Rose (@ smittyrose113), September 21 Tweeter
  • Candace Stuber, September 22, Facebook comment
  • Melody Vega, September 22, Facebook comment
  • The Man from the Library (@ManOfTheLibrary), September 21 Tweeter (archived)
  • USA TODAY, September 20, TikTok is on the Gabby Petito case. Do these real crime detectives help solve it?
  • USA TODAY, September 22, Search continues for fiancé Brian Laundrie after coroner determines Gabby Petito’s death was a homicide
  • Sarasota Herald-Tribune, September 22, Brian Laundrie “will live in hell” if he is indeed on the Carlton reservation, survival expert says
  • The Independent, September 21, Brian Laundrie: Alabama Police Investigate Possible Sighting Of Gabby Petito’s Boyfriend

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Our fact-checking work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.


About Ethel Partin

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