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The Gabby Petito case and why it’s become a public sensation

On Tuesday September 21, 2021, a post-mortem exam confirmed the remains of a vlogger gone missing the weekend prior in a national park in the USA.

22 year old Gabby Petito was visited Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming as part of a cross-country trip. Petito was travelling with fiance Brian Laundrie.

After a month of travelling, Mr. Laundrie returned to his home in Florida without Petito. Last weekend, the Laundrie family reported him missing.

The FBI has issued a federal arrest warrant on Laundrie for using debit card fraud after Petitos death. Additionally, preliminary findings of the post-mortem exams ruled Petitos death as a homicide.

Here’s what is known about the case so far and why this particular case is garnering national interest in the USA.

Who is Gabby Petito?

In July 2021, Gabby Petito went on a road trip from her hometown, Long Island, New York. She went with Brian Laundrie.

According to their social media handles, Laundrie and Petito got engaged in July 2020.

Petito and Laundrie continued to document their road trip through national parks in Western America on Instagram and YouTube.

According to media reports, the journey was intended to last four months. However, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida alone on September 1, 2021.

Petito’s family reported Gabby missing ten days later.

What happened?

It remains unclear what happened when Petito went missing and later, Laundrie went missing.

Some details which have emerged give some insight.

On August 12, police in Moab, Utah were called to a possible domestic violence incident involving the couple. Footage showed Petito crying and complaining about her mental health to the police. She also stated that the coupe were arguing more often.

A police report of the incident articulated that Petito hit him after an argument. Police did not file charges and recommended that the two spend the night apart.

The last video of Petito came from a video from body camera worn by a police officer dated August 12, 2021. Footage shows Petito’s and Laundrie’s interaction with police.

What happened next remains unknown.

Where is Brian Laundrie?

At present, Brian Laundrie remains missing. His family reported him missing this past weekend.

The Laundrie family reports that he had left for a hike on September 14 and never returned.

Laundrie’s last news feed post on Instagram on August 14 shows a series of images of him posing. The location is posted as Moab, Utah.

The police and the FBI are still searching for Laundrie. Teams with police dogs, ATVs and drones are presently searching in Carlton Reserve, a 24,000 acre county park in Florida.

Last week, the FBI conducted an eight hour search of the home of Brian’s parents. The home is located in North Port, Florida and was where Laundrie and Petitio had moved in 2019.

Before he disappeared, Laundrie evaded authorities and did not share information with police.

Laundrie’s lawyer had scheduled a news conference last week but cancelled it after speaking to FBI. The lawyer, Steve Bertolino stated it was not in his “client’s best interest” to go ahead with the event.

After Petito’s death was confirmed, Bertolino issued statement, “May Gabby rest in peace.”

On Thursday, September 23, the FBI issued a federal arrest warrant for Laundrie for ‘use of unauthorized devices.’

The indictment elaborates that Laundrie used a debit card and PIN number for accounts that did not belong to him between August 30 and September 1. The debit card owner remains unknown.

What does the evidence say?

According to a search warrant application, the text messages sent by Petito to her mother showed increasing tension between her and Laundrie.

The application elaborated that Petitio sent an “odd text” message about her grandfather which sounded out of character.

The last time Petito’s family heard from Gabby was a text on August 30 which read. “No service in Yosemite [National Park].”

Yosemite National Park is located in California.

However, there was no indication from reported sightings of the couple, their social media handle nor in the communication with family that the couple had visited California.

According to media reports, the last sighting of Petito was at a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah on August 24. This was over 950km away from Yosemite.

After a search, officials discovered what was left of Petito’s body in Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger Teton National Forest on September 19.

Where and how the body was found remains unknown.

Why has the ‘Gabby case’ become a public sensation?

Although hundreds of people are reported missing in the United States every year, the disappearance of Gabby Petito is a national sensation.

In large part, the case has caught public attention in America, and now internationally, because people are able to see it unfold on social media.

New findings are followed with explainer posts and videos by people on their personal TikTok, Instagram and Twitter handles.

Theories of the Gabby case have not just been explained but also debated and debunked online.

It’s not just about talking about the Gabby case. A social media influencer may have even aided in locating Petito’s remains.

Other social media users have posted multiple information on developments and updates in the case. The Petito family has appreciated the attention given to the case by commenting on social media.

Other people active on social media are people who are visiting the same sights that Petito did. They are helping authorities by sharing tips and posting footage of the white van Petito and Laundrie were travelling in.

Furthermore, the case has been covered extensively by American mainstream media including CNN and NYT.

Another factor for the traction Gabby’s case is getting is that she is part of the GenZ generation which incorporates social media as part of daily life.

Yet another factor for the case becoming so popular is due to what an expert refers to as ‘missing white woman syndrome.’ This is the disproportional coverage on missing white females in America. The selective coverage could be because of lack of diversity and lack of minorities in USA news rooms.

Whatever the factor is, the Gabby case reflects the power of social media in crime-solving as well as a crime story unfolding for any one of us to be a part of.

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