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Why the disappearance of Gabby Petito has swept across the globe

Updated: Sep 22, 2021


Gabby Petito, missing, Brian Laundrie, True Crime
Image courtesy of CNN, taken from Gabby Petito's Instagram.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and views of the West Island News.


There is a term within the social sciences known as “missing white woman syndrome” which attempts to highlight the astronomically disproportionate media coverage and social support received by cases involving young white women and girls.


Compare this with the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women across North America which go virtually unspoken about. Or with the case of Jelani Day, a 25-year-old black man from Illinois who was reported missing on August 25th, 2021 (SOURCE) and has only seen a fraction of media coverage in comparison to Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old white woman who was declared missing on September 11th, 2021 (SOURCE).


JonBenét Ramsay went missing 25 years ago, and yet the details are fresh in our minds. Now, as new evidence emerges and technology advances, the story continues to be covered in the news and on popular chat shows such as Dr. Oz.


I include all this because it is important to be considerate of this as you move forward through the rest of the article. Although the points I seek to make in regard to the Gabby Petito case are pertinent, it is equally important to be mindful of the other ongoing tragedies in the world.


 

A brief timeline:


In June of 2021, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito embarked on a cross-country road trip with her 23-year-old fiancé Brian Laundrie.


Gabby, who had goals of starting a travel blog, converted her white Ford van into a fully liveable space where the pair would live as they traveled the country and stayed in national and state parks.


On August 12th, 2021 Laundrie and Petito were pulled over by officers in Moab, Utah, after receiving a call that a domestic dispute had been witnessed. Recently, the 911 call made was released, and it was described that Laundrie was reportedly seen slapping Petito.


Upon being pulled over, Gabby was evidently distressed, fighting back tears and trying to catch her breath. Laundrie had scratches on his arms and face, which were a result of an argument turning physical between the pair.


No charges were pressed by either party, Laundrie was transported to a nearby hotel, Petito was given the keys to her van, and the couple was instructed to spend the night apart.


You can watch the entirety of the bodycam footage here:




Throughout their travels, Gabby maintained steady communication with her parents and her brother which came to a standstill at the end of August.


On September 1st, 2021, Laundrie returned to his parent’s home in North Port, Florida (where he and Gabby had been living), however, Ms. Petito was not with him.


Petito’s family, who had been trying to get a hold of their daughter for approximately ten days pleaded with Laundrie to provide any information on Gabby’s disappearance. He instead hired a lawyer and refused to speak with the police.


3 days later, on Tuesday, September 14th, Brian Laundrie also went missing. He told his parents he was going for a walk in the Carlton nature Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida. At this time, Laundrie has only been named a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance and not a suspect. Laundrie is still missing, and the search is ongoing.


On Sunday, September 19th, human remains “consistent with the description” of Gabby Petito was uncovered in Teton National Park in Wyoming, thanks to an uproar of reaction and response on popular social media outlets such as Tik Tok, Twitter, and Reddit.


Family YouTube Vloggers Jenn & Kyle Bethune were reviewing footage of their time spent in Teton National Park when they spotted Gabby Petito’s van parked on the side of the trail. It was this information that ultimately led officials to the location of what is suspected to be Petito’s remains.


An autopsy performed Tuesday, September 21st confirmed that the remains were those of Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito.


For more information on the timeline of events, visit CNN.com

 

As previously mentioned, this case has taken the globe by storm. People all over the world have come together to post updates, details, and theories all in the hopes to return Gabby home.


Petito’s case has everything to make it memorable, there is no denying it. A young couple, seemingly in love, bizarre details from Laundrie returning home alone to subsequently disappearing, access to eerie bodycam footage and 911 calls, and trails and traces left behind by both Petito and Laundrie on their social media feeds.


But there is one more reason this case has left the world shellshocked, and that’s relatability. Seemingly overnight, every corner of the internet was plastered with photos of Gabby, and videos outlining theories of her disappearance and Brian’s implication within it.


The sweeping majority of these videos were made by young women, likely similar in age to Gabby.


If by this point you’ve not yet watched the bodycam footage included above, I invite you to do so know as what follows will be an analysis of what can be seen in that video.


 

Having been the victim of Narcissistic abuse myself, I am well-versed in manipulative tendencies. The altercation from August 12th is loitered with tell-tale indicators of a toxic power dynamic. One where Brian has control and Gabby is forced to subdue herself to fit his narrative.


Gabby Petito sits in a police car, screen grab from body cam footage courtesy of Fox

Body language & verbal communication


Gabby's body language very clearly indicates that she is in distress. For one, she is red in the face, is fighting back tears, and is breathing very rapidly. All indicators of anxiety and emotional upheaval.


Brian Laundry on the other hand remains cool, calm, and collected, holding a sturdy posture and even making subtle jokes with the officers.


One key marker of Narcissistic personality disorder is the inability to show empathy towards others. Nowhere in the interaction does Brian express concern for Gabby, or imagine himself in her shoes.


When asked about apparent fingernail marks on his bicep, Brian replies with "I suppose [it's from] fingernails, but I'm not complaining."


He then goes on to say "I'm fine, and I love Gabby, and I hope she doesn't have too many complaints about me." with an air of charmingness and approachability.


Furthermore, Gabby is the only one in the entirety of the interaction to take ownership of her role in the dispute. She says she has OCD, and that it makes her difficult to be around at times. She tells authorities she was "apologizing for being mean" because her OCD can make her "difficult to be around" and on edge.


Brian, on the other hand, takes no responsibility and instead spends his time with officers saying he was "trying to calm her down" and that he had to push her because "she was swinging at him."


Brian Laundrie, Gabby Petito, Bodycam
Brian Laundrie chats with officers, screen grab from body cam footage, courtesy of Fox

Signs of gaslighting


Gabby spends the entirety of the interaction with police blaming herself, apologizing, and making excuses for Brian's behavior. Validating his mean tendencies in response to her supposed flaws.


At one point, she even admits that Brian had said to her that he did not believe she could be successful at running a blog, which makes any victim question their self-worth and become co-dependent on their abuser.


One park ranger said she spoke with Gabby and was not shy about her opinion that the relationship seemed toxic.


"I was asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life."
- Melissa Hulls, Visitor and Resource protection supervisor, Arches National Park

SOURCE


Expression of power


Beyond that, we learn in the bodycam footage that prior to the police pulling the young couple over, Brian had locked Gabby out of the van.


Like anyone, this of course made Gabby more agitated and speaks once more to the power Brian imposed upon her.


He claims in the video that he locked her out because she needed to cool down, once again painting her as the problem.


This is a classic example of someone in a position of power exerting dominance over their victim and reinforcing it by displaying their strength and control over the situation.


 

It is for these reasons that the Gabby Petito case has become a global phenomenon.


Women, girls, non-binary folk, and victims of abuse everywhere see themselves in Gabby. They see their abuser in Brian. People are holding their breath across the world as details continue to unfold because quite frankly, it could have been them. It could have been me. Perhaps it could have been you.


My deepest and sincerest condolences go out to Gabby Petito and her family as they navigate these unprecedented times.

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