The parents of Gabby Petito publicly thanked everyone who helped make progress in their daughter’s case on Tuesday, but her father also implored the press and social media users to give similar cases the same treatment, touching on the national conversation about why missing people of color don’t attract the same level of attention.
Speaking at a press conference alongside the 22-year-old influencer’s mother, stepmother and stepfather, Joe Petito thanked the reporters and internet sleuths who helped elevate his daughter’s case and urged them to make that same commitment to other missing persons and homicide cases.
“I don’t want to dismiss the ridiculously hard work that the FBI and law enforcement all around did, but social media has been amazing and very influential. And to be honest, it should continue for other people, too. This same type of heightened awareness should be continued for everyone ― everyone. And that goes for you all too,” he said, gesturing to the reporters in the room.
Gabby Petito’s body was found in Wyoming last week after a massive search, and her death has been ruled a homicide. At the time of her disappearance, she was on a road trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest in her case but disappeared in the middle of the search for her.
Amid the media frenzy over her disappearance, people came forward on social media about recent encounters with Laundrie and sightings of the couple’s camper van near where police eventually discovered Petito’s body.
Joe Petito doubled down on his plea later in the press conference, saying members of the press should ask themselves why they would so thoroughly cover his daughter’s case but overlook others.
“I want to ask everyone to help all the people that are missing and need help,” he said. “Like I said before, it’s on all of you, everyone that’s in this room, to do that. If you don’t do that for other people that are missing, that’s a shame, because it’s not just Gabby that deserves that. So look to yourselves on why that’s not being done.”
Joe Petito didn’t mention race, but many others making similar pleas have. Missing young white women like Gabby Petito often receive an extraordinary amount of media coverage, public interest and police resources, while similar cases involving people of color fly under the radar and take longer to get solved, critics have noted in the wake of the Petito case.
Between 2011 and 2020, more than 700 Indigenous women went missing in Wyoming, where Petito was found. According to a January report published by the state, 21% of missing Indigenous people remain missing for 30 days or longer, whereas only 11% of white people remain missing for that long. The report also noted that just 18% of cases of missing Indigenous women in Wyoming over the past decade received any media coverage.
Petito’s family said Tuesday they’re launching the Gabby Petito Foundation to help find more missing people.
“We need positive stuff to come from the tragedy that happened,” her father said. “We can’t let her name be taken in vain.”
In an emotional moment, Petito’s parents and stepparents revealed that they all got tattoos matching the ones she had, some of which she drew herself.
“I wanted to have her with me all the time. I feel it. This helps that,” her mother, Nicole Schmidt, said of the dedications.
The Petito family’s attorney, Richard Stafford, declined to answer most questions about the investigation into her death but said they all trusted the FBI’s process. He said he did not expect any assistance from Laundrie’s family.
“The Laundries did not help us find Gabby,” Stafford said. “They’re sure not going to help us find Brian,” who is not a suspect in the case but has been indicted for unauthorized use of a debit card to withdraw more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing.
“For Brian, we are asking you to turn yourself in,” Stafford said.