Gabby Petito Story Sparks Talk of Missing White Woman Syndrome

The disappearance of Gabby Petito quickly made headlines all across America, following the disappearance of her fiance, the main suspect, days before her remains were found. Cause of death: Homicide.


Last month, Gabby Petito,  and her fiance, Brian Laundrie, were on a cross-country camping trip in a van that they lived in. According to Fox News, he returned to his parents’ home without her and soon after she was reported missing. This case quickly grabbed the media’s attention, and it was difficult to scroll through social media without hearing Gabby Petitio’s name or seeing her face. Millions of people were spreading awareness and theories on where she could be and what could have happened, most commonly on TikTok, Instagram, and Reddit. 


Although some feel like this media attention helped push law enforcement to further investigate, others feel completely different, thinking that the amount of coverage has caused a biased view on the case. To many, it seems very obvious that Brian Laundrie is guilty, due to videos surfacing of domestic abuse reports between him and Gabby just days before her death. A few days after Laundrie returned home, he vanished from his place of residence, and his parents claim that they do not know where he is and have not seen him since. Petito’s remains were found near a campsite trail shortly after Laundrie’s disappearance. 


Of course this is a heartbreaking incident, and Gaby Petito deserved to be found but the harsh truth is that this case became so overwhelmingly popular in the media because Petito was white.There is an outstanding number of poc missing that don’t receive nearly the same amount of attention. In fact, the main faces we see on widely spread missing people’s posters are not people of color, even though they have higher rates of disappearances. Since 2016, there have been 5,712 reported cases of Native American women going missing. Native Women’s Wilderness, only 116 have been acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Justice, and not 1 of them has received as much media attention as this case has.


This phenomenon is known as Missing white woman syndrome. This term is not a new thing. In “Gwen Ifill Was Right About ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome”, it is explained that in 2004, Gwen Ifill, a journalist at a Unity Color Convention brought popularity to this term by saying,  “if there is a missing white woman, you’re going to cover that every day.” 

In an article titled,  “News Media Can’t Shake ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome,’ Critics Say”, Martin G. Reynolds, co-executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education described, “What I’m most concerned about is the amount of coverage, and if you look at newsrooms, the coverage decisions are made in places that continue to be disproportionately white,” said Mr. Reynolds, whose organization works with journalists of color. “These cases tend to involve white, middle-class women. And that resonates with assignment editors and news organizations. The one area of diversity that has actually improved relatively well in news media is actually women, particularly white women, in leadership roles.”


Publicity in criminal cases has been a very important key to solving an ongoing case, due to the fact that it often encourages witnesses to come forward with information that they would otherwise not have known to share. It’s important for the faces of missing people to be widely available to the public, and therefore hard to miss if they are spotted by a bystander. Not only white women deserve this treatment. People of color go missing every day, and they were all someone’s loved one, someone’s best friend, someone’s child. Each of these souls matters to somebody, and they each deserve justice.