Jose Toro
Staff Writer

If you’ve been on any social media platform in the last month and a half, you’ve probably seen the case of Gabby Petito floating around. On Sept. 19, she was pronounced dead. She was an upcoming influencer that posted her daily life. Petito had been traveling with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, documenting their escapades and ‘vanlife.’ At the end of their trip, her boyfriend returned to their home in Florida alone, and she was documented as a missing person.

The case has been covered by high profile news outlets such as CNN, BBC News, NBC News, and more. All of them treat her case with the utmost seriousness. For those who are unaware of this situation, here is a brief timeline.

June 2021

Petito and her boyfriend begin their round trip, traveling throughout the USA. Instagram and TikTok posts from her kept updates on the couple’s whereabouts. As Petito and Laundrie traveled from national park to national park, all seemed well. The couple recently became engaged, with the feeling of writing another chapter in their lives. However, as the pages were being written, signs of conflict rose.

Aug. 12, 2021

Police from Moab, Utah, pulled over the couple, claiming that they had “engaged in some sort of altercation.” As Petito and Laundrie gave their alibis, saying everything was fine, officers still claimed that Petito was “confused and emotional.” Additionally, locals called 911 to report a domestic dispute, stating that “the gentleman was slapping the girl.” One caller continued: “They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”

Aug. 27, 2021

Petito texts her mother discussing her location. The family believes she is in Tenton, Wyoming.

Aug. 30, 2021

Petito’s family receives her last text: “No service in Yosemite.” However, they suspect it was Laundrie who sent the text.

Sept. 1, 2021

Laundrie returned home without Petito. 

Sept. 11, 2021

The Petito family officially reports Gabby missing. Around the same time, Laundrie goes on the run.

Sept. 21, 2021

As Laundrie is still on the run, Teton County confirms DNA connected to Petito from human remains.

Present Day

Brian Laundrie still is on the run as millions of Americans continue to gain information surrounding this case.

For all the good that the media coverage has brought in terms of bringing information, attention, and resources to the efforts to find Petito, there has been almost just as much bad. Those close to Petito before her disappearance have been harassed, accused of inaction, indifference, or, worse, murder. Social media couldn’t have saved Petito’s life, but it gave us a clear understanding of what occured the last couple of weeks of her life. When talking about the media coverage of the case, Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Margo Kaatz said, “Is law enforcement working harder now than if it was someone with lower socioeconomic status? If it was a Caucasian prostitute and an addict, would they respond in the same way? It’s hard to say; the media won’t. It’s going to be what pushes their agenda.” In other words, the more respected you are by society, the more society will care for you in time of need.

On various platforms, the community of fans of the ‘true crime’ genre covered every aspect of the case, from what was covered on major news outlets, to analyzing Petito’s social media posts. Many comments on these posts were something along the lines of ‘this case is going to make the best true crime documentary ever; I can’t wait to watch it,’ or bold accusations that Laundrie is guilty of her murder, with no proof other than ‘vibes.’ When talking about why people obsess over analyzing the case, Professor Kaatz said, “It’s one of those mysteries. People in general like mysteries ever since we were young, we play CLUE and we have different ideas of how to figure it out. We use induction and deduction, those skills where people have a nature where they enjoy doing that but then it’s different when it’s real world.”

True Crime as a genre has fascinated many, and skyrocketed in popularity with the help of podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Serial. Professor Kaatz stated that, “It’s become such a popular genre for entertainment. Before there were a few shows and movies, but now it’s become between podcasts and streaming and online that we’ve become desensitized to a lot of it. I have students who’ve said that they’re ready to go to Florida and work the case. You start feeling like you’re a part of it, and lines can get blurred.” However, the reality of seeing torn families and disturbing murders show the difficulties that surround the interest of true crime. Those involved in this case now envision Petito’s remains everyday as those images repeat in the mind, along with those who hear the screams and cries from loved ones the moment she was pronounced dead. 

As this case still is yet to be unfolded, many minorities like myself question why we should even care. The act of women being murdered happens more frequently than we may think. In 2020, at least four Black women were killed by homicide each day. If four Black women get killed each day, why is it that the one national headline involving a homicide has a white woman (Gabby Petito) as the victim? Professor Hash, who studies in psychological sciences, had this to say: “From my limited understanding of the history and complexity of this issue, it boils down to who is a ‘compelling victim.’ And this is particularly relevant when writing this, as it’s Indigenous Peoples Day, since there is a real epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people (especially women) that gets virtually no media attention.” The media portrays Gabby Petito as a beautiful young woman who was murdered by her boyfriend. Why doesn’t the media portray the Black and Indigenous women who are murdered each day as beautiful and young like Gabby? 

The sad reality is, white women are valued more than women of color in our society. Petito is a prime example of the stereotypically attractive, blonde, white woman who sits atop the Hollywood beauty ideal as the pinnacle of who must be protected. White women have a unique position in society; we have been conditioned to believe that their safety is a priority in comparison to other women of color. Indigenous women are significantly more likely to be brutalized and go missing, and also significantly less likely to be found. As a society, we have an obsession with missing white women and children, from JonBenét Ramsey to Elizabeth Smart, yet the vast majority of missing women go ignored.

Hundreds of Black and Indigenous women have either gone missing or been victims of homicide over the last year, and none of them received the media attention that Petito’s case did. People from all over the world were scouring the countryside for clues, analyzing all information, helping raise awareness — what could happen if the same energy was brought to missing and murdered Black and Indigenous women? In retrospect, more protests would occur. If the media can’t report the murders of Black women, how is the average person supposed to be informed about what occurs around them?

Featured Image: Courtesy of Instagram.


In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.
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