I would like to begin this article by acknowledging the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people of color missing whose cases have never been reported on or treated like Gabby’s case has. According to the Black and Missing Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about missing people of color, there were 543,018 people reported missing last year, nearly 40% of those being people of color (USA Today). It is evident that there is a disproportionate amount of missing persons of color who have received little to no media attention. Ap report by Wyoming’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force, in the past decade 710 Indigenous people, mostly women, have been reported missing in Wyoming. According to a report by the University of Wyoming, Indigenous people were nearly 100 percent more likely to still be missing after 30 days than white people.
Gabby Petito was a 22-year-old vanlife social media influencer who documented her travels with fiancé Brian Laundrie on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. On July 2nd, 2021 Petitio and Laundrie left Petito’s family home in New York and set out on what was to be a four-month-long trip to visit and camp in national parks across the United States.
On August 12, 2021, the Moab, Utah Police responded to a call for a “domestic problem” after Petito and Laundrie were reportedly seen arguing and Laundrie was seen slapping and hitting Petito. According to a report from officer Eric Pratt, “both the male and female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.” According to the police report, Laundrie told an officer that “issues between the two had been building over the last few days.” The two separated for the night as suggested and no charges were filed.
Petito’s family told police they last had contact with her in the last week of August with a Facetime and multiple texts where they believe she was in Teton Range National Park, Wyoming between August 24-27th. A woman claimed that she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride on August 29 in Wyoming. Laundrie claimed he had been camping alone for several days while Gabby worked on social media posts alone in the van. He got out of their vehicle around the Jackson Lake Dam around 6:15 p.m. Another woman claimed she picked Laundrie up in the same area not long after he reportedly got out of the first vehicle. She dropped him off at Spread Creek, where Petito’s remains were later found. On August 30, Gabby’s family received the last text from her saying “No Service in Yosemite,” but it’s doubted that she wrote the message especially since they never reached Yosemite.
On September 1st, Laundrie returned alone to his parent’s home in North Port, Florida with the van which was registered under Gabby Petito’s name. Petito’s family had reached out to Laundrie’s family for information on her whereabouts, but his family refused to answer.
Her family reported her missing on September 11 after not being able to get in contact with her. The police went to Laundries’ home that night and were “essentially handed the information to their attorney,” Taylor, the North Port Police spokesperson said. On September 17, Laundrie’s family requested the police to come to their home where they said they had not seen Brian since the 14th. On September 18th the police began conducting searches for Laundrie at the Carlton Reserve in Florida, and the FBI announced they have been conducting ground surveys in Grand Teton relevant to Petito’s disappearance.
On September 19th remains consistent with Gabby’s description were discovered in Teton County, Wyoming and her parents were notified of the discovery. Laundrie’s family was questioned by the FBI at their home the next day where they were escorted from their home after federal agents executed a search warrant. The identity of Gabby’s remains was confirmed and the agency said the matter of death was a homicide on September 21st. A federal arrest warrant was unsealed in Wyoming for Laundrie, charging him with debit card fraud over $1000. On Sept. 25 Dog the Bounty Hunter was seen knocking on the door of Laundrie’s family home in Florida. He told E! News “We have received an avalanche of tips on the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie.”
On Sunday, September 26th, Gabby Petito’s remains were laid to rest in a public service near her hometown of Long Island, New York. Gabby’s father spoke at the wake and encouraged others to feel “inspired” by her and what she represented. “I don’t want you guys to be sad. Gabby didn’t live that way. If you knew Gabby, she was always a pretty happy girl,” he said. “Her nature was always to smile and treat everybody kind. She always made people feel welcome.” Before Sunday’s service, multiple vigils were held for Gabby where her father announced the creation of the Gabby Petito Foundation, which aims to provide resources for parents searching for missing children.
As Petito’s story developed, her Instagram grew from fewer than 1,000 to over 1.2 million followers and videos using #GabbyPetito gained over 1 billion views on TikTok. One in four women will be a victim of domestic abuse at some point in her life, and Gabby is no exception. Gabby’s story has sparked a conversation on domestic abuse and how the media negatively views the victims. Everyone from spectators to amateur internet detectives have been analyzing every piece of information we have and making assumptions. There are a lot of people placing the blame on Gabby saying things like “she had a thing for bad boys” or “she should have left the relationship sooner” to lessen the blame on Laundrie.
Perhaps the worst of the content is the conspiracies. People have been taking the smallest details in videos, Instagram posts, etc. to focus on and use to garner attention on social media. One example comes from the body camera footage of Petito and Laundrie’s interaction with the police. People have been suggesting that the girl in the video is not Gabby because you cannot see her arm tattoos. If you look closely you can see they are faint, but most likely distorted by the poor video quality. Just like any other social media frenzy, among those genuinely trying to help find clues on this case there are those exploiting the case for views.