Gabrielle Petito’s photos quickly popped up on national media soon after the Suffolk County woman was reported missing by her parents. She had been on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie.
Until her body was identified Tuesday, her photos and profile were among 103 files on the FBI’s list of missing person cases for which the bureau is seeking information.
Sixty-three on the list were women. The oldest case on the list was that of a 2-year-old boy who went missing in Vineland, NJ, back in 1959, with a photo aged to represent what he might look like today.
The NYPD has its own lists of people who have been reported missing, most without the attention of the national media.
A look on twitter.com/NYPDMissing this week turns up nine cases from Queens that have been posted in the last year, though at least one one has been resolved — as a murder, like Petito’s. Several are new postings of old cases.
Ghulam Muhammed, 81, of Jamaica Estates was reported missing on Jan. 1, 2015.
Jainauth Indranie, 15, was last seen near 84th Road in the Briarwood-Jamaica Hills area last April 5.
Cedrick Kalil was 27 when he went missing in Queens on March 13, 2002.
Stephanie Cordero, 38, was reported missing from the vicinity of 24th Street in Astoria on Feb. 2.
Corey Hampton, 15, was last seen near Jackson Avenue when he went missing on Dec. 5, 2020.
Marion Mendonca, 16, was last seen Nov. 13, 2020, on 124th Street in Queens, though @NYPDMissing does not specify which section or in which neighborhood.
Chrisleidy Abreu, 16, was reported missing on Oct. 31, 2020, after last being seen on a section of 169th Street.
Chandine Persaud has been missing from Queens since July 2, 2020.
The site still lists Destini Smothers, 26, also was reported missing last Nov. 13, near the intersection of 68th Street and 30th Avenue in Astoria. Last March, she, like Petito, was found dead.
Professor Joseph Giacalone of John Jay College of Criminal Justice is a retired NYPD detective sergeant who used to command the Bronx Cold Case Squad.
Robert McGuire served as NYPD commissioner from 1978 to 1983 under Mayor Ed Koch.
Both spoke with the Chronicle this week about the Petito case, missing person cases in general and just why some cases will garner national attention while most others are worked on only by detectives.
Giacalone and McGuire said the Petito case had elements that lent itself to attention, though both dismissed the assertion by some that a major factor is that Petito was an attractive young white women.
“The answer to that is rather simple,” Giacalone said. “The police had active leads. This took more of an early turn as a homicide investigation than a missing person case. You had a No. 1 suspect. You had all kinds of evidence. He comes back to Florida in her van and she’s nowhere to be found with no way to contact her, so you have active leads in her involuntary disappearance.
“A lot of times, missing person cases are difficult because no one saw them leave, and nobody knows where they went,” Giacalone added. “And sometimes their being missing is not involuntary ... Not every missing person out there wants to be found.”
“It has a lot to do with media coverage,” McGuire said. “You had a kid from Long Island. You had a Florida connection. You have two attractive young people. And a little bit of video footage. This took on a life of its own ... In a lot of these cases, you just have someone who disappears. Sometimes there’s a suspicion of foul play, sometimes there’s not. Unless you get a break in the case ...”
“I know people bring up the race issue, but that has nothing to do with this,” Giacalone said. “This case had meat on it. Police had something to work with. They don’t have ‘My wife left for work and didn’t come back.’”
McGuire also feels race is an incidental issue to the Petito case, though he does not consider such a claim to be criticism of law enforcement.
“I don’t think it’s criticism as much as it is an observational fact. I don’t know that the ‘white blonde’ issue is a major piece. I think two attractive young American kids might have garnered if not all the publicity, then at least some.”
Both say things do not look good right now for Laundrie.
“If Brian Laundrie was trying to divert attention from himself, he did a terrible job,” Giacalone said.
“Most people are victimized by people they know,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a domestic situation, boyfriend-girlfriend, significant other, attention always is focused on the person closest to them.”
McGuire, speaking before Petito’s death was ruled a homicide, said officials would learn the truth in rather short order. He was troubled by analysis he has seen of the Aug. 12 police call in Utah.
“The 911 call reported a man slapping a girl,” McGuire said. “The police report didn’t reflect that.” Then there was Laundrie’s arrival in Florida with her van, before anyone knew Petito was dead.
“Did he leave her there alone in that preserve without transportation or shelter? Are they going to find she died of an accident after being left alone?” he asked.
“If they find she died of blunt trauma, that is really going to focus the investigation. This will, I’m confident, flesh itself out with the examination.”
He also said if police discover a history of physical violence “that would not look well for the boy. That would focus suspicion on him.”
Giacalone said missing person and cold case detectives are specialists even within a group of specialists.
“These are people who essentially never give up, never lose hope,” he said. “They are the last liaison between police and he victim’s families.”
But he said even they need help as early as possible, noting that Petito’s family waited about two weeks after not hearing from Gabrielle to report her missing.
“Family members should not wait a long time if they believe something has happened to a loved one,” he said. “That is valuable time lost for a missing person case or any kind of case. There’s no rule for how long a person can be missing before you report them missing. If you think something is wrong, you get a bad feeling seeing those text messages from her just stopping, her social media, those are so many red flags. Police need to know immediately, not a week or 10 days later. That puts the investigation behind the eight ball.”