‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’; a look at racial disparities in missing person cases

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) —Over the past several days, the nation has followed the disappearance and death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, that’s brought into the question thousands of other similar cases. This includes many cases involving people of color, that often go unmentioned, and some people are calling it ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’.

“It’s sad that we’ve come up on this situation that we call it missing white woman syndrome, because if there’s a missing white woman, then the media is going to cover it until she’s found,” said Shontel Kirby.

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Shontel Kirby is the cousin of Ebonee Spears, a woman who was last seen in January of 2016 in Wilmington.

Kirby says she has noticed this trend in national news since Ebonee went missing.

Monica Caison, founder of the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons said race, age, gender, and status can affect a missing person’s chances of reaching headlines.

“The one thing that we’ve been fighting from day one is the stereotype of the blonde hair, blue eyed girl, and I still see that syndrome. If you’re African American and you’re male, you’ve just been sent down a few notches, but forget that let’s go to Indian, let’s go to a biracial person, let’s go to a Latino,” said Caison.

Black Lives Matter representative Sonya Patrick said this is has been an issue for decades, and hope more people will become aware of racial disparities among missing people.

“A lot of times people assume that you know, it’s not that serious, and they assume the person will eventually be found, and that’s not always the case. This is an issue of humanity, and it’s time to stand up, speak the truth to power, and contact law enforcement,” said Sonya Patrick, Black Lives Matter representative.

Wilmington Police says they treat all missing person cases equally.

“Here at the Wilmington Police Department, every person’s life matters to us, and we treat every single investigation exactly the same,” said Detective James Hutchins, Wilmington Police Department.

Kirby said her family is continuing to push for justice for Ebonee, hoping they can one day bring Ebonee home.

“One big thing is with support, keeping her out there, her memory, and somebody say something, because we know that someone out there that may even be watching us right now, they know something and they won’t say anything,” said Kirby.

“Just because the name fades from the headlines, doesn’t mean we’re not working that case, and in fact we take it very seriously. Some things that the community can do, is if they hear a tip, if they have information they need to let us know,” said Detective Hutchins.

People are advised to report missing person’s immediately and to not wait if they are concerned, and to remain in contact with law enforcement, and make the local community aware of their loved one’s name and a recent photo.

WWAY “Unsolved” covers multiple cases in the Cape Fear that need help solving.