Along with most of the country, I’ve been watching the Gabby Petito case unfold with increasing amounts of shock and horror with each new development and heartache for her family. But as her case goes viral on just about every social media and news platform imaginable, I keep thinking about all the women who’ve gone missing in the United States before Gabby — and since.
So many Black women and girls go missing or are murdered in Minnesota alone, that this past February, the state legislature unanimously approved a bill that will create a task force focused on solving the horrific problem.
In 2016 alone, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 Indigenous women and girls missing. Startlingly, the US Department of Justice recorded only 116 of these.
How many of them reached Instagram or Snapchat with the same fervor Gabby Petito’s case has whipped up on TikTok?
And what about the thousands of non-white women, girls, two-spirit, and transgender individuals who’ve gone missing since that 2016 report?
Like Mary Davis Johnson, who went missing on a walk to a friend’s house on the Tulalip Reservation in late November 2020 and hasn’t been seen since?
Or Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, a member of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Nations who went missing on August 24, 2019, in Hardin, Montana, and was found dead on August 29. No criminal investigation has yet been launched, leaving her family with no answers or closure.
Or Aubrey Dameron, a Cherokee Nation citizen who went missing from Oklahoma in March 2019. Her family hasn’t stopped searching for her even though help has been scarce. Right after Aubrey went missing, the sheriff’s department said they didn’t think she was really missing because of her “lifestyle.”
Aubrey is transgender.
Over and over, the same situation plays out
A young, white woman goes missing and the world turns its eyes on her, demands justice, and doesn’t rest until her case is solved. People literally devote their lives to online sleuthing, which keeps the attention pinned to the case.
Meanwhile, thousands of Black, Indigenous, and Latina women are killed or go missing, and they hardly touch headlines, if at all. Strangers don’t lose sleep over them or comb over the entire internet looking for clues as they have for Gabby Petito.
This scenario is so common, in fact, that it’s pointed out in Native Hope’s sobering short film, Unheard Voices, which everyone should watch.
The families of these missing women are struggling
Not only are they grieving, they’re fighting to get attention from law enforcement. Do a deep dive into the case of Kaysera Stops Pretty Places and you’ll see what I mean.
And if these women do gain any attention, the media is more likely to pick up on the negative aspects of the story.
A recent Gabby headline from The New York Times says, “Who is Gabrielle Petito?” The article talks about Petito’s travel plans, her family, her love of “art, yoga, and veggies.”
Kaysera didn’t get any of her own New York Times articles. Here’s a recent one from NBC instead: “Aunt of slain Crow woman Kaysera Stops Pretty Places calls for further investigation into her 2019 death.”
Gabby gets a whole article devoted to her identity, along with up-to-the-minute coverage by NYT, People, TikTok, and pretty much every other outlet imaginable. Which would be fine if Kaysera and her missing sisters got this too.
Instead, all we know about Kaysera from her NBC article — which ran two years after she was found murdered — is that she is a “slain Crow woman.”
Yes, it’s heartbreaking what happened to Gabby Petito. But we need to look deep inside ourselves and find out why we’re obsessed with her case while we ignore all the other people who go missing and aren’t white.
There is something we can do.
We’ve seen the power of social media in the last week. It’s time to apply that power to missing people that few of us know about right now.
So follow organizations like the Black and Missing Foundation and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA. Donate time and money if you can. And share, share, share the missing persons posters on your social media accounts. Encourage your followers to share, too. To amplify the stories that desperately need our attention.
You never know who might have some information that could lead somewhere.
Say their names. Shout their names. Give them the love, care, and attention they deserve.
And finally, get to know the missing people
Find out who they are and what they love. Help the world know these things about them, too.
Kaysera Stops Pretty Places acted in several plays at her high school. She played basketball. She ran cross country. She wanted to become an actress.
Aubrey Dameron loves to make other people feel comfortable and safe, and she loves to sing.
Mary Davis Johnson is a beloved sister and aunt, and her sisters are still looking for her.