Gabby Petito, Sarah Everard and the fatal decisions of police

This week’s news is a sad reminder that those who are there to protect the public often do no such thing, writes Holly Baxter

Thursday 30 September 2021 11:00
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<p>Petito was missing for two weeks before her body was found in Wyoming</p>

Petito was missing for two weeks before her body was found in Wyoming

Few issues have dominated the US news as much over the past couple of weeks as the death of Gabby Petito, a social media star and self-described “van life girl” who had been traveling the country with her fiance Brian Laundrie. Petito disappeared in early September and her body was found a couple of weeks later in a national park in Wyoming. Not long after, Laundrie himself went missing – and despite claimed sightings in his family’s state, the surrounding areas and even Canada, he has not been found. The police are referring to him as a person of interest in Petito’s death.

Across the pond, of course, the details of Sarah Everard’s murder have been released this week. Everard was kidnapped from the streets of London and murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens — and the latest statements from Couzens’s sentencing describe how she was handcuffed by Couzens and forced into the car while he pretended to arrest her for violating rules relating to the pandemic.

These are two very different killings, but they have some similarities. The first and most obvious one is that both were young women; the second is that they had both had contact with the police in the days before their deaths. Though there is no evidence Petito was killed by a police officer in the manner of Everard, we do know that she and Laundrie were stopped by Moab police in Utah days before she went missing. The officers say they witnessed a violent argument between the two, which included a moment where Petito slapped Laundrie. Although other witnesses said they saw Laundrie hitting a frightened-seeming Petito – and although officers themselves reported that Petito appeared to be suffering a “mental health crisis” — it was determined that Petito was the attacker and Laundrie the victim of domestic violence. Police put Laundrie up in a hotel that night, leaving Petito to sleep alone in their van at the side of the road. Days later, she was dead.

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