‘Missing white woman syndrome’: Gabby Petito case sheds light on racial disparity in missing persons cases

National News

After weeks of desperately searching for her 25-year-old missing son, Jelani Day, a graduate student at Illinois State University, his body was identified by a coroner who matched DNA. 

However, the medical examiner had his body for nearly three weeks before making that identification.

Day’s mother, railing against the disparity in coverage between her son and 22-year-old Long Island native Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito.

Those who are fighting for the missing are bringing more attention to what is happening in our nation when it comes to the treatment and publicizing of missing person’s cases, where far less attention is paid to people of color.

It’s known as “missing white woman syndrome.”

“New stories are recorded from what might be called a white racial frame where people who are white are considered more important,” Professor Carol Liebler of Syracuse University said. “Especially beauty and the fact that, if we look at the women who get the most attention, these are young women, they are women who fit a particular beauty ideal.”

And the news cycle of traditional media now merges with social media posting, Petito’s case garnering 500 million hits on TikTok earlier this week.

The FBI estimates 600,000 people go missing each year. Many are later found, according to Namus, a national government missing and unidentified persons system.

However, about 4,400 bodies go unidentified each year as well. 

This one website is a tool for police, medical examiners and families to all share information and search.

The goal? To get families what they so desperately need — an answer to what happened to their loved ones. 

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