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Gabby Petito’s case captivates with social media journey, puzzles advocates of minority victims

As the case of Gabby Petito gained international attention, victim advocates in Miami-Dade County said there are cases involving minorities that would never get the response Petito’s case has gotten.
As the case of Gabby Petito gained international attention, victim advocates in Miami-Dade County said there are cases involving minorities that would never get the response Petito’s case has gotten.

MIAMI – As the case of Gabby Petito gained international attention, victim advocates in Miami-Dade County said there are cases involving minorities that would never get the response Petito’s case has gotten.

Ruban Roberts, the former president of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Miami-Dade County branch, said there is a shocking lack of parity. Journalist Gwen Ifill dubbed the inequality decades ago as the missing white woman syndrome, according to the New York Times.

“We have had people in our community, elderly, young folks, who have been lost and get very little coverage,” Roberts said.

In 2020, more than 540,000 people were reported missing in the U.S. About 60% of them were white and about 40% were Black or from other minorities. The data is concerning considering Blacks make up about 13% of the population.

Tangela Sears, of the Florida Parents of Murdered Children, said people just don’t care as much when the victim is Black. Police officers will issue a “Be On the Look Out” alert, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will get media time.

“Blacks from the foster care system go missing all of the time. There’s also missing reports after 4 hours when Blacks are missing, kids are missing, and you don’t hear about any of this,” Sears said.

Joe Carrillo, who is a private investigator, said he has dedicated his career to searching for missing young people around the country. He said Petito’s social media presence as a travel influencer “boosted” her case.

“She was already viral before she became missing,” said Carrillo, of the Bringing Them Home Project.

Also, Petito’s case is a federal case. She and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, were traveling cross-country in a white 2012 Ford Transit Connect. This immediately involved the FBI’s network.

The couple lived together in Florida’s Sarasota County and her body turned up on Sunday at the Grand Teton National Park, which has federal jurisdiction in Wyoming.

Roberts said he understands the factors of Petito’s case, but there is no question law enforcement and the media need to change the way they deal with missing persons’ cases involving people of color.

“What we’re talking about are humans and I think that’s that thing that we have overlooked,” Roberts said. “Let’s look at it, not from a white or Black perspective. Let’s look at it, not from a male or female perspective or elderly or young, but look at human beings and understand the value of human life.”


About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.