The disappearance of Gabby Petito was one of the most publicized and tragic events of this year. Having gone missing on Sept. 11, the 23 year olds’ remains were eventually found in Grand Teton National Park, where her and her killer, fiancee Brian Laundrie, were camping just a few weeks prior.
This tragedy became significantly more calamitous upon the discovery of nine other missing people. The mobilization of the Petitio Movement placed an emphasis on the disparity between media coverage and law enforcement efforts involving other missing persons cases. I am placing extreme emphasis upon the fact that all of these nine bodies were part of a minority group.
The first victim found was Lauren Cho. Last seen on June 28 in Yucca Valley, California. The New Jersey resident had recently quit her job as a music teacher and was said to be in “mental distress” just three hours prior to her disappearance. She had additionally just bought an old school bus to convert into a food truck to drive out west to pursue her dreams. The evening of her disappearance, Cho had indicated to her brother that she was meeting up with a new friend whose name she did not specify. While her cause of death remains undisclosed to the public, her family and friends grieve her legacy with a heavy heart.
Now, Cho had gone missing just a few months before Petitio. Why did nobody pay the same attention to her disappearance? Some may say it’s due to Petitio’s large social media presence and active updates of her whereabouts. Others have strong speculation that this relates back to ingrained prejudices.
If they found just nine bodies during the time of the Petito search, imagine how many more they would find if they searched this hard for everybody who was reported missing. The amount of lives saved and closure provided to families of those lost would increase significantly, which is exactly what is needed.
According to the National Crime Information Center, 40% of missing people last year were of color. As the pandemic progressed, that percentage rose, specifically the rapidly increasing rates of missing indigenous women. In fact, in the state of Wyoming, in which Petitio was found, the bodies of over 700 indiginous people remain unaccounted for, 85% being children.
As reported in NPR, sociologist Zach Sommers reported that out of any missing persons case broadcasted on television, it is most common for the demographic of white women to be paid the most attention. In fact, out of four news stations in which Sommers closely analyzed, white women were more likely to appear in news coverage than men and women of color.
Often criminalized, men and people of color are proven to not be taken seriously in missing person cases. If they are, their story often revolves around acts of violence, addiction or poverty. This all comes down to the portrayal of these individuals in the media.
Natalie Wilson of the Black and Missing Foundation Inc. stated “We need to change the narrative. These are our mothers, brothers and sisters, these are our family members, our neighbors, and their lives matter, and we need to do a better job in getting them media coverage.”
Now, how do we change the media? There’s really no way to change the content that a news station covers; however, we can take strides to raise awareness for these individuals who are not granted the same opportunities and positive attention as others.
The media, while being one of the most vital informative platforms, clearly isn’t doing it’s job of equally representing missing people. Our job as active bystanders who are aware of these injustices is to utilize other resources. Alternative platforms like the Black and Missing Foundation, TraceLabs and The FBI Kidnapped and Missing Page show more adequate information on missing people of all demographics and update themselves significantly more than news stations.
For clarification, I am not trying to discredit the severity and sadness of the Gabby Petito case along with those cases of other missing white women. However, upon the analysis of the large discrepancy between the attention paid to missing white women as opposed to missing men and people of color, this is something I could no longer ignore.