Gabby Petito case highlights disparities in solve rates, conversations about missing minorities

Akilah Davis Image
Friday, September 24, 2021
Gabby Petito case highlights disparities in missing person cases
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Fayetteville resident Priscilla Sands has been missing for more than eight months with no leads on the case.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Fayetteville resident Priscilla Sands has been missing for more than eight months with no leads on the case. Sands has dementia. She left home on foot without keys or a cellphone January 7, 2021 claiming to have a doctor's appointment.

Her sister, Linda Williams-Adjei believes she would have been found if the case had gotten media coverage and law enforcement had gotten involved sooner.

"Absolutely. She was seen in the area. There was no video pulled from those cameras. We asked and tried, but they wouldn't do it. They said it was too much to look through," said Williams-Adjei.

The family has watched as Gabby Petito's case gained national attention with authorities using ATVs, drones and helicopters to locate the 22-year-old woman from New York, while still no word here at home of where Priscilla is.

"Why is that? I believe it's because she's a Black female and they thought she was homeless. She's not homeless. She has a home and a family who loves her," she said.

It's something experts call the cost of being a person of color in America. That's why they are sounding the alarm and calling this an epidemic.

"Our missing are often stereotyped as being involved in some type of criminal activity, they live in poverty, some type of addiction. They are seen as a burden on society, but they really aren't. They are our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, valued members of our community," said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of Black and Missing Foundation.

The nonprofit aims to find missing people of color across the country. In 14 years, she says they've helped find more than 400 people, saturating news markets and law enforcement with information about the cases. Their most recent case was Jelani Day, a missing 25-year-old graduate student from Bloomington, Illinois.

"Our missing do not or have not been getting the coverage and sometimes the law enforcement assistance needed to be recovered," she said.

The FBI released this statement to ABC11 after we asked what its criteria for getting involved in a missing person's case was:

The FBI has jurisdiction in missing children's cases, particularly those of "tender" years which is 12 or younger. We get involved in other missing persons cases if locals request our assistance and if we have a tool, tactic, or technique that they do not have access to as part of their investigation. Also, if a crime occurred on federal property as in the Gabby Petito case, we have automatic jurisdiction.

The Department of Public Safety canceled the Silver Alert for Priscilla Sands. Family members shared words they have to law enforcement as the search for their loved one continues.

"You're just not working for Priscilla. Priscilla deserves more and so do the other missing people out there," said Williams-Adjei.