Search for missing woman who vanished on roadtrip with boyfriend sparks Gabby Petito comparisons

Disappearance of Nikki Alcaraz on a trip from Tennessee to California after she was allegedly assaulted has drawn chilling parallels to Gabby Petito case

Bevan Hurley
Tuesday 30 May 2023 11:08 BST
911 caller saw Brian Laundrie hitting girlfriend Gabby Petito

Family of a missing Tennessee mother-of-two who vanished on a cross-country roadtrip with her boyfriend say they fear she is in immediate danger.

Nikki Alcaraz, 33, who also goes by Nikki Cunningham, was travelling in her black Jeep Wrangler with her boyfriend Tyler Stratton and pet dog from in Cheatham County to visit family in Orange County, California, authorities say.

She was last seen on the morning of 6 May at a Super 8 motel in the small town of Moriarty, New Mexico, about 40 miles east of Albuquerque.

In a chilling echo of the Gabby Petito case, the couple were pulled over on 4 May in Torrance County, New Mexico, after witnesses reported seeing Mr Stratton punch his girlfriend in the face.

Photos released by the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Department showed Ms Alcaraz with a black left eye after the incident.

According to an incident report, Mr Stratton claimed he had also been hit, and Torrance County sheriff’s deputies observed blood coming from his mouth.

Neither Mr Stratton nor Ms Alcaraz wanted to press charges, and she was given a ride to Moriarty.

Her sister Toni Alcaraz told WKRN that she hadn’t heard from Ms Alcaraz since she received a text message on 9 May saying she was planning to continue to California.

Toni Alcaraz told WKRN that she spoke to her sister after the alleged assault and that she was crying and upset.

“Her eye was already turning black and you could tell she was beat up pretty bad,” Toni Alcaraz told the news site.

Nikki Alcaraz, right, vanished while travelling from Tennessee to California with her boyfriend Tyler Stratton, left

A friend travelled from California to take care of Ms Alcaraz and stayed at the Super 8 with her for a night.

She left early on the morning of 6 May, telling her friend that she was going to find her boyfriend.

Toni Alcaraz told WKRN that the sisters were usually in daily text and phone contact, and it was highly unusual not to hear from her for an extended period.

Nikki Alcaraz suffered a black eye after she was allegedly assaulted by her boyfriend Tyler Stratton

“I am scared something happened to them, whether they got in another fight or if they crashed her Jeep somewhere,” she said.

A license plate reader picked up Ms Alcaraz's Jeep near Flagstaff, Arizona earlier this month, however police say her cellphone is out of service and untraceable.

Mr Stratton has an outstanding arrest warrant for an unrelated theft charge in Cheatham County.

Ms Alcaraz’s two children were at home in Cheatham County, the family said.

In September 2021, Gabby Petito’s remains were found in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming after she disappeared on a road trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie.

The couple was pulled over in Utah by officers from the Moab Polic Department on 12 August after receiving reports that Laundrie had struck Petito.

They were allowed to continue separately after Laundrie claimed he had been hit by Petito.

An independent review of the domestic assault incident found the officers had made several mistakes, and should have been classified as a domestic assault.

Laundrie later shot himself in the head and left a suicide note confessing to killing Petito.

Petito’s family are suing the Moab Police Department for failing to follow the law and protect her during the traffic stop.

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