Over the past few weeks several people have taken to social media such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, to express their thoughts and theories on the disappearance of 22 year- old Gabby Petito. She was reported as a missing person after her fiancé Brian Laundrie returned home from a cross country road trip without Petito.
On Sept. 19, human remains were found in the Grand Teton National Park and two days later, the FBI announced that the remains found were Petito’s. Her death has been ruled as a homicide and many point to Laundrie as her killer, but, as anyone who has been following this case knows full well, Laundrie is absolutely nowhere to be found despite a massive search for him throughout the nation.
If someone types the name Gabby Petito into the TikTok search engine, they will be bombarded with video after video of self-described true crime junkies analyzing everything about this case. From the last text Petito sent her mother before her disappearance to the last image she posted on her Instagram feed before she disappeared, they have all the facts.
The intense interest in a crime that had such a tragic ending shouldn’t take people by surprise as true crime podcasts, books and movies have become increasingly popular over the past several years, especially among millennial and Gen Z women. It almost seems like some true crime fans have been waiting for something like this to happen so they can finally apply their true crime knowledge, which was acquired through the many true crime podcasts they listen to.
While some of these self-proclaimed true crime fanatics feel that they are actually making a difference through their posts, some people have questioned whether the obsession with true crime cases such as Petito’s is truly helping solve the case. Others have pointed out that while it’s good that people are using social media to draw attention to this case and urging people to reach out if they know something or have any tips, some have forgotten that Petito was a real, living person with family and friends who loved her dearly and wanted nothing more than her to return home safe.
Her disappearance and death are not the plot of the latest Criminal Minds episode, these events really happened. The hunt for her fiancé and suspected killer isn’t like those murder mystery games that KCAB puts on where people are paid to dress up and pretend they are a person of interest in a murder investigation. This is a search for an actual person. This is real life and this event happened to a young women. And for Petito’s loved ones, this is a real nightmare.
Another negative effect that can stem from true crime fans obsessing over public cases is that the FBI can receive a surge in calls from people claiming they have a tip to share about the case. Take the Petito case for example. At first glance, having a number of people calling in to help solve this case might seem like a positive thing, but in reality these calls are keeping those who are actually trained and paid to solve this case from making any real progress. According to an article in USA Today, investigators have had to weed out any tips that come from videos on TikTok from tips that actually have weight and could help with the investigation.
Now, this is not to say that being a fan of true crime and following this case is a bad thing, it’s quite literally part of human nature. People are drawn to drama and conflict. Like driving past a bad car wreck, it’s hard not to stop and look at what happened. In the case of Petito it’s hard not speculate what happened. But what happens, when a ton of people slow down to view a bad car wreck? Traffic is held up, people are late for work and patience is lost. All for what? To see how bad the accident is? To see a portion of what could very well be one of the worst days of somebody’s life? To speculate how the accident happened and what driver is to blame?
People have a tendency to treat unsolved criminal cases, specifically deaths and disappearances like a bad car wreck on the interstate. Despite knowing it’s not helpful, they can’t help but stop and look into it or at it. Like stated before, it’s human nature to be attracted to crisis and it doesn’t always have to be a negative thing, especially when compassion and empathy are put into place. It’s okay to be somewhat curious in true crime cases, but don’t let curiosity trump empathy and compassion.