Gabby Petito’s Coverage Renews Calls to Shed Light on Missing Indigenous Women

Vy Nguyen, Section Editor

In July, twenty-two-year old YouTuber Gabby Petito and her fiance, Brian Laundrie, prepared to trek across the nation and vlog their adventures. However, on August 12, two weeks before her disappearance, a 911 call was placed in Moab, UT, witnessing that Laundrie allegedly hit Petito. Although the couple left a string of smiling photos on their social media accounts after the alleged incident, on September 1, Laundrie returned to his and Gabby’s home alone. Gabby was filed in a missing person’s report ten days later. Nearly two months later, Laundrie’s remains were found at Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County, FL. 

Since then, the van-life vlogger’s disappearance has gripped the nation as news channels plaster her face on headlines, and Instagram feeds become vessels for convoluted conspiracies concocted by a lay public. While mainstream media is enamored with what is now a tragic sensation, discussions surrounding Petito’s case question why this case, in particular, is sensationalized in the first place.

The red handprint is a common symbol for the largely ignored missing indigenous women.
Graphic by Zainab Rentia. 

The images of Petito that percolate news outlets identify her as a white woman with a warm smile, teal eyes, and blonde hair. Critics claim that the media’s fascination with Petito and her disappearance can be pinned to the revival of ‘missing white woman syndrome.” Coined by the late Black journalist, Gwen Ifill, the phrase underscores the disproportionate news coverage that well-off and attractive white women garner compared to their colored and less-privileged counterparts.

In Wyoming, the very state from which Petito allegedly disappeared, 710 indigenous peoples were reported missing from 2011 to 2020. Although the magnitude of such disappearances begged for awareness, the names of these 710 victims, along with many more, remained unspoken by media — until the disappearance of one white woman.

Social media users have also taken to uncovering and exposing such uneven coverage by investigating other missing people of color, including 30-year-old Lauren “El” Cho. Inspired by the conversations catalyzed by the Petito case, Cho’s friends and family have continued to promote their Facebook page, “Missing Person: Lauren ‘El’ Cho,” on various social media platforms, like Twitter to disseminate resources, hotlines and leads on Cho’s whereabouts. She was last seen in Yucca Valley, CA with her ex-boyfriend on June 28, which was two months before Petito’s disappearance.