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Critics claim ‘missing white woman syndrome’ has overshadowed these missing persons cases

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New York Post
Kate Sheehy
September 21, 2021

Most disappearance cases involving people of color quickly fall off the national radar, if they ever even make it that far — a racist double standard considering the current Gabby Petito saga, critics claim.

“Missing white woman syndrome’’ — a term used to describe the perceived disproportionate attention paid to white females who disappear, as opposed to people of color — was trending on social media Tuesday as hordes of news outlets and local and federal authorities focused on the Petito case.

Petito, a 22-year-old white woman from Long Island, disappeared out West in late August while trekking around with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, sparking a national manhunt and media frenzy.

“We would not know that Gabby Petito existed if she was Native American or black and not a pretty white blonde,’’ fumed Twitter user Hart-Van ‘n Leeu.

Lynnette Grey Bull, a Native American advocate from Wyoming, told NPR, “It’s kind of heart wrenching, when we look at a white woman who goes missing and is able to get so much immediate attention.”

Here are some cases of missing people of color that have failed to garner a fraction of the attention given Petito’s case:

Dulce Maria Alavez

The pigtailed kindergartner, 5, vanished from a park in Bridgeton in Cumberland County, New Jersey, two years ago this month, likely snatched by a child predator, authorities have said.

But while her case grabbed local headlines for awhile, publicity about the still-missing Hispanic child has tapered off, with the last bit of news — an age-progression poster released by officials last week — picked up by a few outlets.

Lauren Cho

The 30-year-old former New Jersey teacher was last seen leaving a home on foot in the Yucca Valley in California on June 28, where she’d been staying with an ex-boyfriend after the pair’s cross-country trip in a converted tour bus.

She hasn’t been seen since, and Twitter users have been urging that her case get the same attention as Petito’s.

“If Missing White Woman Syndrome isn’t real, then can you guys please prove the complainers wrong and make some noise for this Korean American woman?” wrote Dae-Jung in a tweet.

Sofia Juarez

The case of the missing toddler in Kennewick, Wash., would seem to have enough twists and turns to grab sustained national attention.

The little girl disappeared while walking on a street on an evening in February 2003 — and possible new leads in the case recently surfaced.

The tips included a witness who may have seen someone approach the child and lead her off, and another person who spotted an occupied van with no windows stopped nearby.

Then there’s the recent TikTok video of a woman in Mexico who bears a striking resemblance to age-progression photos of Sofia and said she was in Mexico and is a kidnapping victim.

Authorities are said to be investigating the potential new leads.

Akia Eggleston

It’s been four years since the pregnant black Maryland mom vanished just before her baby shower in May 2017, and she has yet to be found.

Eggleston’s father, Shawn Wilkinson, went on TV’s “The View’’ in 2019 to plead for anyone with information in the case to come forward.

This past May, her family held a prayer vigil outside the home where she had lived, although it barely garnered a blip of media attention.

“It’s very hard to understand where police are in the investigation,” Wilkinson told the local Fox affiliate — the same week Baltimore cops posted a missing-person flier for the young woman.

Tamika Huston

The 24-year-old black woman vanished in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 2004 and remained missing until the next year — when her former boyfriend confessed to murdering her and led cops to her skeletal remains.

Her aunt lamented after Huston’s body was discovered that the family had been trying for months to focus national attention on the case in hopes of finding her.

The two women who founded the Black and Missing Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the disappearance of people of color, cited the case during a February interview with when asked why they started their group.

Destini Smothers

The 26-year-old mother of two young children from Troy in upstate New York vanished from a Woodside, Queens, bowling alley Nov. 3, 2020 — and her murdered body was found in the trunk of an abandoned car in the borough four months later.

The case gathered a handful of local headlines.

“The differences between how missing cases are covered in regards to race are glaring,’’ Sulaiminah Burns wrote on Facebook on Sunday — the same day the discovery of Petito’s body made national headlines.

“If you google each name you will see the differences in how each case was handled, the difference in media coverage, the difference in urgency.’’

Yaniya Jovon Carter

The 14-year-old girl of color disappeared outside Atlanta the same day Caitlyn Frisina, a white 17-year-old, vanished in Florida in 2017 — yet Carter’s case didn’t merit half the attention of the other teen’s, according to an NBC article about racial inequities in the treatment of missing persons.

Both girls were eventually found safe.

Jade Wagon

The 23-year-old Native American and mom of two was found dead on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in January 2020, nearly a month after her mother reported her missing.

Her missing-person case had failed to make a ripple nationally, drawing the ire of Native American advocates.

A warrant was eventually reportedly issued for a suspect in Wagon’s death.

Selena Not Afraid

The 16-year-old Native American vanished New Year’s Day 2020 at a rest stop in Montana, and it took nearly a month for her body to be found — less than a mile from where she was last seen.

She succumbed to hypothermia, with her death ruled accidental, authorities said.

Her aunt told TV’s “Dateline” that same month, “A large percentage of these missing girls are Indigenous.

“But this is not just an Indigenous problem. This is a human problem … Those who are missing do not have a voice, and we need to be that voice for them.”

LaToyia Figueroa

The pregnant black mom, 24, disappeared from Philadelphia in July 2005, and her remains were found outside the city a month later.

The father of her unborn child was arrested for her murder.

At the time, critics said the search for Figueroa and paltry media attention given her case was nothing compared to that afforded Natalee Holloway, an 18-year-old white woman who went missing that May in Aruba.

Photo credit: New York Post

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