Gabbi Petito case shines light on Alabama’s Black missing persons

Gabbi Petito case shines light on Alabama’s black missing persons
Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 12:19 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Gabby Petito’s story dominated the national news headlines for months. It garnered thousands of news stories, social media posts, and hashtags. But, in Montgomery, Lakira Goldsmith’s mother says she’s been left looking for her missing daughter alone.

Marchelle Goldsmith said she feels her race, age, and background play a role in how the Montgomery Police Department has handled this case.

“When it comes to white people or college students, they put in effort to get search teams to look for them. But where’s Lakira’s search team? It’s not fair to my daughter. She’s a missing person too. They should take every case seriously and put in the effort to find these people,” Marchelle Goldsmith said.

Lakira is just one of thousands of missing people who color whose stories remain missing from the national news media. Reports and studies show that there are often resource disparities and a general lack of attention when it comes to these cases; it became glaringly obvious for many during the search for Gabby Petitio.

Jelani Day, for example, an Alabama A&M graduate, went missing around the same time as Gabby Petito. Unlike her case, which was covered regularly by national news outlets, his mother was left pleading for help. She’s been critical of authorities’ efforts since he went missing.

“I need answers because the police departments that were involved in searching for my son and looking for my son and finding answers for my son failed me. They failed my child,” Carmen Bolden Day, Jelani Day’s mother, told CNN.

WSFA 12 News launched the 12 News Defenders Case File series shortly after Gabby Petito and Jelani Day’s cases to shed light on all of Alabama’s missing and unsolved cases.

Derica Wilson, the Black and Missing Foundation founder, is on a crusade to bring attention to missing people of color.

“First and foremost, our heart goes out to the Gabby Petito family. No family should ever have to experience what that family experienced. And we do applaud her father who came out publicly and said that he acknowledged that there are other missing people who need the same resources dedicated,” Wison said. “However, every so often, the media becomes very obsessed with a young, white, blonde hair blue eyed female. And their families in our community, in the black and brown community, that are fighting for law enforcement even to take the case.

Wilson said often when children of color go missing, they are labeled runways.

“And when it comes to missing adults, their disappearance is often associated with some sort of criminal activity. Our organization is working to change this, working alongside law enforcement, and doing what we can to help these families,” Wilson added.

Wilson said there are things that people can do to support these families.

“Educate ourselves on all cases in our area. Share our flyers with your network, on your social media pages, and understand the importance of using your voice,” Wilson said.

Because along with Lakira “Pigg” Goldsmith, LaQuanta Riley, Nannette Thomas, Fred Wright, Kimberly Arrington, and several others are all black, all missing, and were all last seen right here in Alabama.

WSFA reached out to the Montgomery Police Department about Lakira Goldsmith’s case and they said that they couldn’t comment because it’s “an active investigation.” Based on the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s criteria, her case did not meet the requirements for a Missing Child and/or Endangered Person Alert.

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