The FBI is asking for the public’s help in finding the missing fiance of Gabby Petito, the young woman whose body was found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest following a weeks-long search that received an enormous amount of social media attention.
Petito’s death is undoubtedly tragic, and her case is drawing attention to how we talk about missing person cases — and how we don’t. The details of her death — a young, white woman who goes missing while her fiance draws increasing scrutiny — lend themselves to the true crime-obsessed public’s imagination. But a report from Wyoming’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force reveals that 710 Indigenous people have gone missing in the state between 2011 and 2020. 57 percent are female. 85 percent are kids.
There are numerous reasons these cases don’t get the same attention Petito’s has. True crime has taught us to be interested in a certain kind of story, and many of these cases don’t fit that blueprint. And the lack of media attention may take a toll. 21 percent of missing Indigenous people are missing for a month or longer. Only 11 percent of White people are missing for that long.
The plight of missing and murdered Indigenous people has been growing increased media attention in recent years, after Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon established the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force. Still, the report found that only 30 percent of Indigenous homicides even made the news, compared to 51 percent of White victims.
Hopefully, the public attention on Petito’s case will aid authorities in finding out what happened and bringing her killer to justice. But hundreds of missing people and their families would benefit from that same sort of attention. Hopefully, this story will lead us to consider the deeper issues around our nation’s missing people.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.