Just days before 16-year-old Gabby Petito was reported missing in April, nearly two dozen uniformed Miami-Dade police officers crowded around a screen in front of a darkened bathroom at the Hillcrest Dog Park, according to Dade police records obtained by NBC 6.
Three of the officers were stationed next to a car to film a self-shot video with the Snapchat “party animal” and celebrity DJ Jean-Paul and the brother-in-law of Jean-Paul’s girlfriend. He was Brian Barrymore, an accused murderer and known or believed by his friends to be a sex offender.
Brian – who police records show may have been at the scene shortly before the photo was taken — stared into the camera with his eyes red and puffy and his shoulders slouched. Police released the selfie to local television stations as part of their search for Petito.
The pool of hot water and waterfowl found in a closet near the bathroom also seemed pretty much ready for a party. The bathroom was more like a makeshift dance hall — with large plastic water bottles on each side, two disco balls, an ice sculpture, giant plastic pieces of rug and large paper maps of a neighborhood. There was a sign in the middle of the room “coming soon” and a sign under the mirror reading “Friends.” The sign on the television screen when Petito was last seen — which was live from the dog park — had “Missing Tapes” on it.
Court documents from State Attorney’s Office allege Michael Petito, Gabby’s father, engaged in false surveillance to try to cover up her April 9 disappearance. He kept secret evidence from law enforcement that might have led to a person of interest, according to an April 12 press release.
Two of Gabby’s friends told NBC 6 that the Facebook photo of Jean-Paul and Barrymore resembled a picture taken shortly before her disappearance, which one friend said showed “Brian sitting next to Gabby.”
The unidentified friend said they were friends of Barrymore’s and always lived a mile away from where they thought Petito had disappeared. She said some of Barrymore’s friends were in the picture with Petito as they left the park. Another witness who knew the judge-slash-reporter said Barrymore and Gabby were friends at the time of the disappearance.
When asked to describe him in a 10-second video selfie, one friend said “kind of a douche” but added, “of course he’s a douche.” The friend said they caught the shots before the bathroom was fully populated, around 3 a.m. on April 9. She said she was convinced Barrymore got in the background of the selfie because he always likes to take selfie photos with big windows. When asked if she believes Petito might have gotten into the bathroom with them in a miscommunication or the selfie was a set-up, she said she doesn’t know.
After her photo was released to the media, Petito’s mother, Felicia Cortes, said she would “apologize to my family” for how investigators were handling her daughter’s disappearance.
“I wish I would have known about this to get me involved as an organizer or anything,” said Brian Barrymore on the morning of the story’s release.
“It is all because of the media, but you don’t want to know that at all. I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and they got all this up.”
His attorney Drew Taylor acknowledged that Bryan, Jean-Paul and their now-teenage sons were living in the small town that also gives rise to the rumor that he was Brian Barrymore – and now wanted to be known as his real name. But he said they lived a mile away from the park in South Miami-Dade. Taylor said the officer who was the subject of the Snapchat video was also the subject of the original police reports about Petito’s disappearance. He suggested it could be a coincidence that the teen missing about two weeks after it all took place was closely associated with a DJ.
And while Taylor initially believed the Snapchat story and the police reports were “one and the same” – and they had access to the same evidence – he said it was later discovered the picture in the story was taken sometime after the discovery of Petito’s body on April 21. Taylor said that means the first clue didn’t fit the narrative to explain the Petitos’ theory about why Petito disappeared.
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