SAN MARCOS, Texas - A a more than month-long manhunt through a Florida nature reserve, the remains of Brian Laundrie have been found and identified. Laundrie is a person of interest in the disappearance and homicide of his fiancée, Gabby Petito.
FOX 7 spoke with Dr. Danny Wescott, an anthropology professor that works with the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility at Texas State University, to learn more about the process behind identifying human remains.
Along with research and community outreach, their team at the 26-acre outdoor human decomposition research laboratory has assisted law enforcement with cases involving human remains.
According to Dr. Wescott, dental records can be one of the fastest ways to identify a body, though there are other options.
"Any kind of antemortem records that have features that are unique to an individual can be used," said Dr. Wescott. "For example, your frontal sinuses - the pattern of those are as unique to you as your fingerprints are."
Other methods can include fingerprints and DNA, though processing DNA can potentially take months due to backlogs.
Dr. Wescott said anytime they have an unidentified person they submit a DNA sample to the University of North Texas, but in most of their cases, the individual is identified through other means before the DNA sample is processed. However, they must write up an identification report and present it to a justice of the peace for final approval.
Of course, the environment can play a big part in what is left behind to use for identification. Warmer environments, like Florida, may accelerate decomposition.
"Any kind of environment that is advantageous to the development of maggots, and then the development of bacteria, is going to cause faster decay rates," said Dr. Wescott.
Though Laundrie’s remains were identified, as of Thursday his cause of death was still unknown - something that may be much harder to figure out.
"If there’s barely anything left, what you’re doing is you’re looking at possible trauma on the skeleton," said Dr. Wescott. "If it was a soft tissue injury and the soft tissue is gone, you’re probably just never going to know."
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