Friends of Gabby Petito, the 22-yer-old travel blogger murdered while on a cross-country trip, are speaking out after apparent human remains were found amid the ongoing search for Brian Laundrie. The FBI confirmed in a press conference Wednesday that remains were uncovered in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park alongside a backpack and notebook belonging to Laundrie. Authorities have not yet identified the remains, which Petito's friends are maintaining hope are not Laundrie's.
Speaking to PEOPLE shortly after the press conference, Petito's high school friend Ben Matula said he hopes the remains are "not him, because that means he never has to answer for what happened to Gabby." At this time, Laundrie has only been indicted for unauthorized use of a debit card. He has been named a person of interest in Petito's case, but does not currently face any charges in connection to her death. Matula suggested if the remains are discovered to be that of Laundrie, it means "he didn't want to face the music. He had a lot of things he had to account for, and he can't do that if he's dead. Except to God." He added that if Laundrie is "meeting his maker, I hope he got things right before he died. But death is the easy way out."
"If Brian is dead, the problem is that no one will ever really know what happened or why it happened," Petito's friend, Alyssa Chen, added. "We'll never have answers. That's why I want him to be alive, because we won't get answers otherwise. It'll be a double tragedy for him to be dead."
The massive manhunt for Laundrie has stretched on for weeks and was prompted following the disappearance of Petito, who was reported missing on Sept. 11, ten days after Laundrie returned home from a cross-country trip without her. Her body was discovered in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park on Sept. 19, the Teton County coroner ruling her death murder by manual strangulation and estimating that her body had been outside for three to four weeks prior to its discovery. At that point, Laundrie had not been seen since Sept. 13, and an exhaustive search for him began, with tips coming in from across the country and the biggest break coming with Wednesday's discovery.
According to Michael McPherson of FBI Tampa, the area in which the remains were discovered was previously underwater. McPherson said an evidence response team is on the scene and will likely remain there for several days. Steven Bertolino, who has represented Chris and Roberta Laundrie, said "the probability is strong that it is Brian's remains."