North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor made the claim to PEOPLE while discussing a blunder the department made misidentifying Mr Laundrie.
“Other than confusion, it likely changed nothing. There is a very good possibility that Brian was already deceased,” Mr Taylor said. “He still needed to be found. We just wanted people to better understand why we thought we knew Brian was in his home.”
Mr Taylor was adding context to the revelation earlier this week that the officers with the department mistook Mr Laundrie's mother, Roberta, for her son in the days after Ms Petito was reported missing.
Officers saw Ms Laundrie in a baseball cap driving her son's silver Mustang and believed the woman was actually Mr Laundrie.
This was the explanation offered when reporters asked why North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told them on 16 September that he knew where Mr Laundrie was located.
In reality, Mr Laundrie left his home “very upset” on 12 September, according to the family's attorney, Steven Bertolino. According to Mr Taylor, it is likely Mr Laundrie was already dead at the time of the chief's press conference.
Watch: North Port city authorities have removed the Gabby Petito memorial outside Brian Laundrie’s home
Mr Taylor pointed blame for the mix-up on the Laundrie family, saying their refusal to cooperate with police made it difficult for them to keep track of their son and noting that Mr Laundrie and his mother were “built” similarly.
Mr Bertolino rejected that explanation in a statement given to ABC 7.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” he wrote. “But Brian and Roberta are not ‘built’ the same. Moreover, it was NPPD that put the ticket on the Mustang at the park and if they saw Brian leave on Monday in the Mustang, which is news to me, then they should have been watching the Mustang and the park starting on Monday and they would have known it was Chris and Roberta that retrieved the Mustang from the park.
“Now to be clear, none of this may have made a difference with respect to Brian’s life but it certainly would have prevented all of the false accusations levelled by so many against Chris and Roberta with respect to ‘hiding’ Brian or otherwise financing an ‘escape.’ In the end, LE searchers did their best to locate Brian and their efforts are appreciated.”
He went on to turn the blame back onto the police department for losing track of someone they were presumably surveilling.
“I concur with Mr. Taylor that Brian may have already been deceased when NPPD realised that they ‘lost track’ of him. However, you can’t blame the family because the police didn’t know enough to follow someone they were obviously surveilling,” he wrote.
“This is a tragedy for two families and any mistakes made by anyone or any entity involved should be acknowledged and used to train or educate others so the mistakes are not repeated.”
Watch: Gabby Petito's dad doesn't expect closure from Brian Laundrie's notebook