How the search for Lauren Cho has gained attention because of Gabby Petito and ‘missing white woman syndrome’
A surge of social media users are leading a renewed charge to find Lauren “El” Cho, a New Jersey woman who went missing in late June after the case of a missing road tripping YouTuber made national headlines.
Cho’s story: On June 28, Cho, 30, reportedly walked away in distress from her residence in Yucca Valley, Calif. She was converting a school bus into a food truck and was working as a chef, according to Oxygen True Crime.
- Her friends and ex quickly noted her absence and how it was highly unusual — she didn’t take anything with her and had expressed “some wishes to self-harm before she left.” She also texted a friend that she needed help fixing her bus earlier that day and was very attached to her parakeet, whom she would worry about leaving for just a day, according to the Hi-Desert Star.
- The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department was alerted of her disappearance shortly after, and officers from the Morongo Basin Station searched for her to no avail.
- On July 2, she was declared a missing person, and the police officially suspended their search, stating there was “no particular person of interest” nor any substantial new leads. Within that month they also conducted aerial searches and executed a search warrant on where she stayed, according to their Facebook post.
The fascination behind the YouTuber: Social media users, especially those from the true crime side of TikTok, were fascinated when they grabbed hold of another missing persons case — Gabby Petito’s.
- It had all the makings of an eye-catchy story: a young YouTuber documenting her #vanlife on a cross-country road trip with her loving fiancé, but after a few months on the road they had a fight, and she reportedly had a “manic” episode and went missing. Then he went missing shortly after.
- Petito’s family and a hoard of netizens were frantic for answers, spawning tags like #findgabby and #gabbypetito, which led to tens of millions of views on TikTok, according to Rolling Stone. Her body was later found in a Wyoming national forest, and the FBI determined that the cause of her death was a homicide, according to Insider.
Social media power: On that same thread, a new level of public outcry emerged across Twitter on how little coverage was given to missing persons cases when it came to people of color and reinvigorated steam for cases like Cho’s. Users were claiming disproportionate attention compared to the mega-virality of Petito’s case.
- MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid was one of the people who pointed out this disparity and the public and mass media’s captivation with cases of missing white women. Reid called it another instance of “missing white woman syndrome” — coined by late journalist Gwen Ifill — which prompted a new round of discussions among critics, according to the New York Times.
- A Sept. 19 tweet saying “let’s get the same energy going” in regard to Cho’s case has garnered over 45,000 retweets and 65,000 likes as of this writing.
- A Facebook group named “Missing Person: Lauren “El” Cho,” which claims to have ties to her family and has continued to post updates on her case since July, addressed the comparison of Cho’s case to Petito’s.
- On Sept. 18, a post was published to the group that read, “We realize that on the surface, the public information for both cases share some similarities. We understand the frustration many of you have expressed about how and why certain cases receive national coverage. Ultimately, these two cases are NOT the same and the differences run deeper than what meets the public eye.” It then acknowledged the tragedy that befell their family and Petito’s, wishing for a “positive resolution” for them both.
- Since disappearing in June, Cho has still not been found and was last seen wearing a yellow T-shirt and jean shorts.
- On Sept. 21, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department released their latest update stating that their Specialized Investigations Division was tasked to assist the search in the Morongo Basin Station.
Police urge anyone with information to call Detective Edward Hernandez or Sergeant Justin Giles of the Specialized Investigations Division at (909) 387-3589. Anonymous tips can be received through the We-Tip hotline at 800-78-CRIME (27463) or www.wetip.com.
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