A popular TikToker raised more than $5,000 from his followers to fly banners over Brian Laundrie’s home in North Port, Fla., that say “End the silence — justice for Gabby” and “Justice 4 Gabby – Tik Tok time’s up.”
It’s the latest example of the massive impact that social media has had on the case, as amateur sleuths on TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, and other platforms have closely followed 22-year-old Gabby Petito’s tragic death and the manhunt for 23-year-old Brian Laundrie.
Justin Shepherd collected donations from his more than 330,000 followers on TikTok through Venmo, then used the funds to pay a company to fly the banners over the house, where Brian Landrie’s parents have laid low since the case began.
“The goal of the banners was to keep awareness of the case,” Shepherd told Fox News. “It’s kind of a bit of a stunt to fly a plane over the house for two hours.”
Shepherd is one of countless TikToers who have seen their followings rise exponentially since the case began.
“I’m well-versed with the internet, but I’m not well-versed enough to pick apart Spotify songs and Instagram pictures, but other people have been, and they’ve been able to find these clues and bread crumbs that have been left along the way,” Shepherd said. “I think that’s another reason why it’s been so captivating of a case.”
Gabby’s parents have praised social media and thanked users for their efforts.
“Put your differences aside and focus 100% on finding that family member. Use social media. Utilize it. Call the news. Ask them to help you,” Nichole Schmidt, Gabby’s mom, told Dr. Phil this week about advice for other parents of missing persons. “Get their face out there. There’s people out there that want to help. You just got to work. It takes a lot of work.”
TikTok has been one of the most popular platforms with more than 1.4 billion views on the #GabbyPetito hashtag, but there are also more than 146,000 members of the Gabby Petito thread on Reddit and endless YouTube videos on the subject.
Miranda Baker, who has more than 331,000 followers on TikTok, said in a series of videos on Sept. 17 that she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie on Aug. 29 while he was hitchhiking in Wyoming.
After seeing Baker’s video, Norma Jean Jalovec says she realized that she also picked Laundrie on Aug. 29 and dropped him off later that evening at the Spread Creek dispersed campground, where Petito’s remains were discovered weeks later.
Both women said they have talked to law enforcement about their encounters.
Gabby documented her travels on Instagram and wanted to become a van life YouTuber, posting her first video on Aug. 19 that chronicled her travels with Brian Laundrie.
Another YouTube channel, a van life family that goes by “Red White & Bethune,” was editing video last month when they realized that they saw Petito’s van in the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area of Grand Teton National Park on Aug. 27.
Shepherd said that his followers wanted to do a third banner, but for now he is encouraging them to donate instead to the Gabby Petito Foundation, which her family recently started.
Meanwhile, authorities are still searching for Laundrie, whose parents told police on Sept. 17 that they hadn’t seen him for a few days.