Armchair detectives and internet sleuths from coast to coast have combed through clues, debated theories, and called in tips to authorities in the Gabby Petitio homicide investigation.
For better or worse, these amateur video vigilantes have drawn massive attention to the case, watching and commenting as it unfolds in real-time on social media. Micro developments have been dissected and explainer videos posted on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. True crime podcasts have covered every angle, giving some media outlets a run for their money.
Whether the online frenzy has actually helped the investigation remains unclear, but it illustrates the public's fascination with true-crime stories and its willingness to get involved.
Destinee, a Twitter user from Florida, put it bluntly: "We're all the FBI now ok."
"With the rise of interest in true crime, I absolutely see this trend of online sleuthing continuing," she told the Washington Examiner on Friday. "Especially if it means that we, in any way big or small, had an impact or made a difference that benefits the case."
Mark Lewis - the writer and director of the Netflix documentary Don't F**k With Cats, which chronicled two amateur detectives harnessing the power of social media to try and solve a mystery - agrees.
"From the safety of your living room, you can do amazing things in terms of detection, and many people are," he told the New York Times.
Following Thursday's announcement that authorities issued an arrest warrant for Petito's boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, the cyber community once again sprang into action - with some making public pleas for bounty hunters, both amateur and professional, to "do their thing."
ARREST WARRANT ISSUED FOR BRIAN LAUNDRIE, BOYFRIEND OF GABBY PETITO
"Anyone know if any bounty hunters or private investigators are looking for #BrianLaundrie???" wrote a Twitter user from Orange County, California, on Sept. 23. "Dog the Bounty Hunter?? Anyone doing it pro bono?? Any black hats, gray hats, white hats in cyber ops?? Internet sleuths, Reddit users, are all on it...be we need to take level up."
The same user tweeted, "Any #NGOs available to assist in finding #BrianLaundrie ?!?!? I'm sure there's some former military operatives, civilian contractors out there with expertise that can help!! You found Bin Laden in a cave!!!"
Police have been searching for Laundrie for a week now. The 23-year-old went on a hike last Friday near his home in North Port, Florida, and never returned, his parents told authorities.
Laundrie and Petito, 22, left for a weekslong road trip on July 22 from New York and made stops in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The couple posted photos and videos of their adventure on Instagram and YouTube.
Petito was last seen on Aug. 24, when she and Laundrie checked out of a hotel in Salt Lake City.
Her mother, Nicole Schmidt, said she last heard from her daughter on Aug. 25 when Petito told her they were headed to Wyoming.
On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned from the trip alone in Petito's white Ford van.
Petito's parents, who live in New York, reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not hearing from her for two weeks.
On Tuesday, the FBI confirmed the remains of a person found in Wyoming over the weekend were Petito. Teton County coroner Brent Blue's initial determination for the manner of death was homicide.
Courtesy of Rick Stafford / Find Gabby
Social media influencers Kyle and Jenn Bethune, who have lived in a bus with their three children and four dogs for two years, have been unofficially credited for helping locate Petito's remains. The Bethunes said a friend contacted them last week, suggesting they may have been in Bridger-Teton National Forest at the same time as Petito and Laundrie.
Kyle Bethune said his wife started looking through video footage they took during their Wyoming trip.
"Lo and behold, we saw it, clear as day," he said about a white van matching the description of the one Petito and Laundrie were traveling in.
Jenn Bethune called the FBI about their discovery. The person she spoke with directed her to a website created to share tips about Petito's disappearance. The couple uploaded the video there but also released a copy themselves.
"We know the power of social media," Kyle Bethune said.
The video went viral, and Petito's mother reached out to the couple seeking information.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Florida acknowledged that while "social media can certainly be a good tool to create awareness about a missing subject," it could also "be a breeding ground for false information."
Alex Piquero, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Miami, warned that information shared in online chat rooms or on social media platforms should be met with a dose of skepticism.
"You know, social media has its uses, and then it also has its misuses of people who say whatever it is they want to say and think they have the answers to everything," Piquero told South Florida's NBC6. "I would never make any judgment about anything on a 30- or two-minute [piece of] video footage of something without having a debrief of those individuals, without getting evidence, without seeing all of the other information that is out there."
Washington Examiner Videos
Tags: News, Missing Person, Crime, Florida, New York, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, FBI, Social Media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
Original Author: Barnini Chakraborty
Original Location: Gabby Petito case leads to rise of armchair detectives