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Brian Laundrie disappearance: did police make a mistake?

The FBI is now searching for Brian Laundrie (right), who is the person of interest in the disappearance of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito. (North Port Police)
The FBI is now searching for Brian Laundrie (right), who is the person of interest in the disappearance of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito. (North Port Police)
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As the manhunt for Brian Laundrie continues into its fifth day, a big question -- and criticism -- looms large: how did police let their person of interest slip away?

CBS12 News spoke to two law enforcement experts to ask if North Port Police made earlier mistakes in the Gabby Petito investigation and Brian Laundrie search.

Dr. David Thomas, a former officer and now forensic expert at Florida Gulf Coast University, said North Port Police did drop the ball by letting Laundrie out of their sight.

"They didn't have anybody on the house... to see where he is going," Thomas said.

He believes it was most likely a matter of manpower.

"I will guarantee you that North Port PD does not have the resources," Dr. Thomas said. "I know they've have to call in the sheriff's office, maybe a couple other departments to run 24 hour surveillance."

Stuart Kaplan, a former FBI agent, agrees.

"I just don't think local law enforcement has the manpower to keep someone in pocket, or keep someone under wraps 24 hours a day 7 days a week," Kaplan said.

At the time Laundrie allegedly left for his hike last Tuesday, he was a person of interest in a missing person case, not a death investigation, Kaplan points out.

"You have to weigh the presumption of innocence," he said. "[Laundrie] hasn't been charged with a crime. And we don't want to overburden local law enforcement and we don't want to harass or intimidate people that quite frankly have a right to live their lives freely."

What about Laundrie's parents? Could they be charged, based on what they knew and what they did before their son disappeared?

"Parents do not have a legal obligation to tell on their children, but if they did something to obstruct the investigation, they took evidence and concealed it, clearly they are subject to criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice," said Kaplan.

Dr. Thomas said if the parents aided and abetted Laundrie, or even lied to the FBI, they could face charges.

In light of a newly released 911 call from Utah, where a witness claims Brian Laundrie was slapping Gabby Petito in their van, should responding officers have done something differently?

"I'm interested to know if the officers had that information when they got to the call," Dr. Thomas said. Based on the physical evidence -- scratches and marks on Brian Laundrie -- both Thomas and Kaplan say police handled the situation appropriately.

"Based on the evidence, she was the aggressor," said Thomas.

Despite the public's frustration in Laundrie's disappearance, both experts say they believe evidence is coming together in the case, and say the discovery of Gabby's body is a game-changer.

While they are surprised Laundrie has been missing for this long, they think police will still find answers.

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"If they get enough probable cause for a warrant, they will turn the marshals loose and find him," Thomas said. "If he's alive, they'll find him."

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