The missing person you haven’t heard of

The evident racism in the underreporting of missing women of color perpetrates the long-standing idea of not treating people of color as people. Photo by John Gomez on

I would consider you out of the loop if you have not heard of the ongoing Gabby Petito case.

During the week of September 12th, her name went from being obscure to a national news story. A brief rundown of the case is as follows. 

Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie were traveling through the United States in a revamped van. The police stopped the couple for reckless driving. Bodycam footage of the encounter revealed a toxic relationship. 

After that sighting, Brian returned home alone. A search began to find them both, with no one being able to find Gabby or Brian. The Petito family made a statement claiming that Gabby was missing and Brian was hiding. 

On September 19th, the police found Petito’s body in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. 

Even before the police found her body, Armchair investigators took to social media. These amateurs dissected Petito’s final Instagram post, claiming that her roots were not freshly dyed. 

Her other posts were eloquent, almost diary entries. This last post included neither. The internet eventually became obsessed with this case. 

However, the most obvious question for many is why? I would argue it’s because she is a white woman. 

The internet is simply giving the Petito family as much dignity and respect as possible is incredibly needed. It would be a disservice to claim otherwise. What about the other missing women? 

Lauren “El” Cho has been missing since June 28th. She went missing under similar circumstances. After leaving her van upset, no one has seen Cho since. Cho was in her van with her former partner Cody Orell, who reported her missing and claimed she was meeting someone. 

When the Petito case grew in popularity, many called out the race-based bias at play. Only then did names like Cho begin to circulate. 

We must know every name, not just Cho’s.The apparent racism in underreporting of missing women of color perpetrates the long-standing tradition of never treating people of color as people. 

Almost 40% of missing people in 2020 were people of color, according to the Black and Missing Foundation. 

The media also has a terrible habit of vilifying these missing women. Whether a person is a runaway, criminal or just a victim of poverty, main news outlets continually desensitize people to crime against people of color. 

“Thousands of people are reported missing every year in the U.S., and while not every case will get widespread media attention, the coverage of white and minority victims is far from proportionate,” the Black and Missing Foundation stated. 

It is essential to understand the value in circulating missing person cases. It puts pressure on law enforcement and signals to minority communities that we hear you. We see you. 

Diversity in the newsroom should reflect diversity in this country. With the emergence of online amateur investigators, there is no reason why every missing person case should not receive the same attention as Gabby Petito. 

We can not only highlight the white ones. Only highlighting cases of missing white women is an act of racist cowardice.