The Death of Gabby Petito and the Ongoing Crisis of Missing Women of Color

    Gabby Petito, pictured right, and Brian Laundrie, left, reportedly broke off their engagement before her death, but the couple remained in a relationship. Photo courtesy of Petito’s Instagram.

    The news of the missing New Yorker has made its way across the nation. From news coverage, to shares on Facebook, to TikTok videos, everyone has seemed to be talking about the case.

    Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was a 22-year-old woman who was traveling cross-country with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. 

    Petito was fascinated with van-living, the lifestyle of living in a van. Because of this, Petito and Laundrie decided to try out the van-life, and Petito was also creating videos about their experience.

    On Aug. 12, the Moab police department was dispatched near a co-op where there were reports of a domestic altercation. While the police arrived too late to the scene, an officer on the road found their vehicle and pulled Petito and Laundrie over.

    The bodycam footage shows that Petito had been crying, and they both admit that they had been fighting all morning. No charges were filed from the police.


    During their travels, Petito would regularly Facetime with her family back in New York, but this video chat communication turned into text-only conversations before her disappearance.

    On Aug. 30, Petito’s family received their last text from their daughter. The message read “No service in Yosemite.” While this is the last message from Petito’s phone, the family does not believe it was sent from her.

    The last known location of Petito was at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. 

    On Aug. 29, a woman, Miranda Baker, claimed that her and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie, who was hitchhiking. In her series of TikToks about the interaction, Baker said that Laundrie told the couple that he was camping alone for a few days while his fiancé was back in their van working on their social media pages.

    Laundrie would later arrive at his North Port, Florida, home that he shared with Petito on Sept. 1, and the van the couple shared together was later recovered at the house as well. 

    Ten days after Laundrie’s Florida arrival, Petito’s family officially filed a missing person’s report. 

    On Sept. 19, the FBI recovered a body at Grand Teton National Park, and two days later, the body was confirmed to be Petito. The FBI, and even Dog the Bounty Hunter, are still looking for Laundrie.

    It took a total of eight days after the missing person’s report was filed for the police to find Petito. While this is a tragic event, the circumstances raise the question as to why the women of color who go missing do not receive as much coverage as Petito did.

    According to the New York Times, 31% of the missing women and girls last year were Black, and their cases take longer to solve for many reasons. One major reason is that police classify their case as a runway, making their case less sever from those classified as missing. The process of finding a runaway can take months.

    This runaway problem only worsens as Black women get older. After someone turns 18, they are legally an adult, so if they are classified as a runaway, the family is simply told that their child can come and go as they please since they are an adult.

    The problem is not only with Black women, but there is also an epidemic within the Indigenous women community.

    According to the Native Women’s Wilderness, Indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than any other ethnicity, and the third leading cause of death for these women is murder.

    It is not just murder that Indigenous women have to be scared of. According to a report from the National Institute of Justice, in 2016, 84% of Indigenous women had experienced violence in their lifetime, and over 50% have dealt with sexual violence.

    The problem here is not only coverage of the missing and murdered women, but it also has to do with the fact that some of the cases land in different jurisdictions, such as the tribal police or city police.

    However, the issue still stands: women of color do not get enough coverage on their cases. While families will turn to social media to help find their children, most of the time the case does not blow up to the magnitude that Petito and other white women do.


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