In June 2021, Gabby Petito left her Florida home and never returned. Setting off on a cross country road trip with her fiance, Brian Laundire, 22-year-old Petito sought adventure. The plan was to end up on the West Coast, stopping at various state and national parks on the way. In close contact with her family and through frequent posts, videos and more on social media, Petito shared her journey with the world. However, all forms of outward communication stopped in late August, and she was not heard from again.
As word spread surrounding the elusive nature of her disappearance, disturbing details regarding Laundire and Petito’s relationship came to light. On Aug. 12, a 911 caller reported seeing a couple in a physical altercation on the side of the road and that “the gentleman was slapping the girl.” Detailing a white van with a Florida license plate, police pulled over the described car. Subsequent police camera footage emerged depicting a hysterical Petito, who disclosed to the officer that her fiance, Laundrie, had indeed hit her. Daniel Robbins, the responding officer, relayed that the couple did not wish to file charges and that they claimed to be very much in love. Robbins facilitated the two to separate for the night, having Petito drive the van, while he took Laundrie to a hotel, and that was the end of it.
Petito stayed in contact with her family, FaceTiming and updating them as the couple journeyed west. The texting continued through Aug. 27, with her family believing her to be staying in the Tetons. On Aug. 30, they received a final cryptic text: “No service in Yosemite,” and the trail went cold.
This story has since captivated the nation, spread throughout social media,
headlined almost every news source and now stands at the forefront of ongoing discussion, investigation and inquiry. But the question remains: why? Why this missing person’s case? Why Gabby Petito?
What drives the media to cover a story? The New York Post recently published a collection of the most captivating missing person stories before Petito. All white and predominantly female, these individuals reveal an unsurprising trend: the media’s infatuation with the plight of white women.
The media’s desire to cover certain stories over others undoubtedly reflects public interest in any given event. This subsequently showcases a larger issue, one we are extremely familiar with: racial bias, injustice and inequity. The media’s obsession with Petito’s disappearance and recently confirmed homicide truly reveals the enduring racism entrenched throughout all areas of society.
Upon further researching the extent of media coverage for missing non-white individuals, a plethora of cases emerged, the most striking being the disappearance of Daniel Robinson. Robinson is a 24-year-old, Black geologist who was last seen on June 23, 2021, a mere two months before Petito. All that remains of this fateful day is his crashed Jeep, phone, wallet and keys. In a similar air of mystery and lack of answers, Robinson’s case would appear to garner the same attention, fascination and wide-spread activism that Petito’s disappearance has since attracted. However, this is evidently not the case.
Why is Petito more important than Robinson? Both were young, promising individuals, yet why has she been pushed to the foreground while he remains in the background, along with so many others?
Robinson’s father is still looking for him. The New York Post writes that “he has led six searches in the desert, and claimed a private investigator told him the Jeep crash may have been staged, and the vehicle was driven after the impact.”
Petito has now been found; Robinson has not.
Though they are two different cases, and Petito is no less deserving of the recognition she has received than Robinson is, I cannot help but feel a large sense of injustice for Robinson. Did you even know he was missing? I didn’t.
Whether or not the media can play a role in solving this case is unknown, but it can at least bring some recognition. Petito’s disappearance and media attention generated a movement, a wide-spread commitment to bringing her home. Robinson deserves the same.
We know Petito’s last text, the final words sent from her phone, where she was going and who she was with. Robinson simply vanished with no context, no last messages, nothing: we know nothing. The trail is far colder, yet no one seems to care.