On September 22, autopsy results confirmed that remains found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest belonged to 22-year-old Gabby Petito. After Petito went missing, her story dominated the national news cycle for a month. Millions of people across the country knew her name, feared for her safety, and are now mourning her death. But in the very state where Gabby was found, 710 Indigenous people have gone missing from 2011 to 2020.
The Disappearance Of Mary Johnson
When Gabby Petito went missing in early September, a nationwide search followed. Millions of strangers heard her story and stayed vigilant for both her and her fiance, Brian Laundrie. But when Mary Johnson went missing in Wyoming last year, the country didn’t know her name.
On the night of November 25, 2020, Johnson, an enrolled citizen of the Tulalip Tribes, planned to visit a friend in Oso, about 30 miles away from the reservation where she was staying. Johnson arranged for a ride, but those plans fell through. For hours, she waited at a local church for someone to help her get to her destination. The last anyone heard from Johnson, she was calling the people she knew, pleading for someone to come pick her up.
According to phone records, Johnson made it to the Oso area that night. Law enforcement believes someone picked her up, but they still do not know who. What the public does know is that Johnson never made it to her friend’s house. And in the nearly 11 months since her disappearance, there have been very few developments. Only last month did the FBI announce it would offer a $10,000 reward for information about Johnson’s case, but Johnson’s loved ones are left to wonder what took them so long.
“If that was a little White girl out there or a White woman, I’m sure they would have had helicopters, airplanes, and dogs and searches — a lot of manpower out there — scouring where that person was lost,” Nona Blouin, Johnson’s older sister, said. “None of that has happened for our sister.”
‘This Happens Every Day’
And Johnson’s story is a drop in the bucket for the Indigenous people of Wyoming, a state that has seen over 710 Indigenous people go missing since 2011. “This happens every day to young Indigenous women and men. It happens every day,” explained Jordan Dresser, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming. “But it doesn’t get the coverage [Gabby Petito] got. As Native people, we’re always seen as invisible. We’re always seen as less than.”
“We really saw this theme of Indigenous women being overshadowed and not reported on,” said task force Chairwoman Cara Chambers. “Even when they were reported on, it was typically after a body had been found or a crime had occurred, and it was typically framed very negatively – a graphic description of the crime – while their white counterparts were more likely to have an article written while they were still missing to aid in the search.”
And Wyoming is just one state. In the US, violence against Indigenous people is an epidemic. There are currently about 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons in the National Crime Information Center Database. That’s 1,500 people that never saw a fraction of the media attention we all gave Gabby Petito. Even Joe Petito, Gabby’s father, made his own call to action to treat every missing person’s case like they did his daughter’s.
“I want to ask everyone to help all the people that are missing and need help,” he said to reporters at a press conference. “Like I said before, it’s on all of you, everyone that’s in this room, to do that. If you don’t do that for other people that are missing, that’s a shame, because it’s not just Gabby that deserves that. So look to yourselves on why that’s not being done.”