Petito case renews appeal to highlight missing people of color

The haunting unanswered question that Ella Mae Begay, a 62-year old Navajo rug weaver, left behind has threatened to overwhelm Begay's niece in the three months that have passed since her disappearance.

Petito case renews appeal to highlight missing people of color

Seraphine Warren organized searches of the vast Navajo Nation land near her aunt's Arizona home, but she is running out money to pay gas and food for volunteers.

"Why is it taking so much time?" She asks, "Why aren't we getting our prayers answered?"

Begay is just one of many Indigenous women who have vanished across the U.S. Others are not given any attention, which is a problem that affects many people of color.

Gabby Petito (a 22-year-old white woman) disappeared in Wyoming while on a cross-country journey with her boyfriend. This has sparked a frenzy of media coverage, both traditional and social. It brought new attention to the phenomenon known as "missing White Woman Syndrome."

Many people and organizations that advocate for missing persons of color, as well as their families, are grateful for the attention Petito's disappearance received. They believe it led to clues that probably led to her tragic death. They mourn with her family. Some also wonder why other cases remain a mystery and the public spotlight is so important in finding missing persons.

"I would have preferred a quick rush to get my aunt found faster. "That's all that I want," Warren said, who lives in Utah, where Petito and Brian Laundrie visited.

According to a January state report, only 18% of missing Indigenous women cases in Wyoming, where Petito was discovered, had received any media coverage over the past ten years, according to a January state report.

Lynnette Grey Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota member and Northern Arapaho director of Not Our Native Daughters, stated that "someone goes missing almost every day...from a tribe community." Between 2011 and 2020, more than 700 Indigenous people vanished in Wyoming. About 20% of those cases remained unsolved after one month. The report revealed that this is almost twice the rate of whites disappearing in Wyoming.

People connected with Petito's case because of her Instagram account, where she was living her dream to travel the country. Other social-media users also contributed clues, such as a couple who claimed to have spotted the white van in their YouTube videos.

Although authorities have not confirmed that the video was the cause of the discovery, the American West's vast open spaces can pose a problem for search teams for many years. Any effort to narrow the search field is welcomed. Authorities can also be forced to prioritize cases by the public.

However, not everyone has the opportunity to have a well-curated social media profile. Leah Salgado is deputy director at IllumiNative which is a Native women-led social injustice organization.

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