And Justice for All?

Why do we know the name Gabby Petito but not the name Stephanie Bentley?


“I can roll off the names of Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, Caylee Anthony, Gabby Petito, and not one person can roll off a missing Black or brown male or female that has garnered mainstream media [attention],” said Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation.

     You may have heard the name Gabby Petito or the name Brian Laundrie. The couple became famous overnight, but not for the reason you would expect. On September 11, 2021, Gabby Petito was reported missing following a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. Eight days later her remains were found in Wyoming and identified. The media immediately started covering the case and soon everyone knew the name, Gabby Petito. 

     According to the Washington Post, in a seven-day period Petito had been mentioned 398 times on Fox News, 346 times on CNN, and 100 times on MSNBC. The amount of coverage was shocking and brought up the idea of “white woman missing syndrome” which is a term used by social scientists to comment on the disproportionate media coverage that happens when a white, upper-middle-class woman goes missing as opposed to missing women who are not white, women of lower social class, and missing men or boys.

     When Clay Cabot ‘22 was asked if he knew who Gabby Petito was, he confidently said, “Yes.” When asked if he knew who Stephanie Bentley, Gwendolyn Turner, or Alison Woodruff, all recently missing POC, he said, “No.” 

     According to the Black and Missing Foundation, nearly 40% of missing persons are persons of color. So why is it that we know none of their names? 

     Ms. Lewis said, “I actually have a friend whose daughter is missing right now and it took days for it to get media coverage so this hits home on a personal level.” 

     A report done by the University of Wyoming showed that from 2011-2020 in the same area that Gabby’s body was found, 710 Native Americans were reported missing. Lynnette Grey Bull, the founder of a Wyoming-based group focused on advocating for missing and trafficked Native Americans, said this is because “White people were more likely to have an article written [about them] while they were still missing,” while “indigenous people were more likely to have an article written about them being missing only after they were found dead.”

     Some people have attributed the widespread coverage to the fact that Petito had a big online presence prior to her disappearance. Petito and Laundrie had a youtube channel showcasing their entire trip. Petito also regularly updated her Instagram followers of her whereabouts. Because this kind of social media presence can be an interesting component to a missing person case, people jumped to different platforms picking apart every video looking for clues. True crime fanatics have also pointed out that this case could be gaining traction because it has a very similar feeling to the Shanann Watts case,  in which she and two of her two kids were reported missing and later found murdered by her husband Chris Watts.

     This is not an issue that only relates to missing POC. Reports of missing men or boys, regardless of race, rarely get recognition as well.

     Justice can and should be afforded to all people. Asking why others aren’t getting justice does not mean that something should be taken away from Gabby Petito.

     If you are looking for a way to feel more involved, check out the website Our Black Girls. Founded in 2018 by activist Erika Marie, the website discusses the cases of African American girls or women who have gone missing. Another site to check out belongs to The Black and Missing Foundation. BAMFI is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color. The foundation also provides vital resources and tools to the families and friends of these missing persons, and to educate the minority community on personal safety.