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By David Bachelor, PhD
Pastor, Pearsall 1st Methodist Church
One of the themes in this week’s headlines could be called “Visible and Invisible Murder Victims.” Among the “visible” is Gabby Petito. Since the report of her disappearance on September 11, her image has been daily in the media. Even after her funeral this week, Gabby continues to make the news. Among the “invisible” is Clara Birdlong. Her remains had been labeled as “Escatawpa Jane Doe” (after the area in Mississippi where her body was found) since 1977. According to the New York Times, her invisibility was stripped away this week when the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office announced a DNA match and revealed Jane Doe’s true identity.
Gabby and Clara share their status of “visible” and “invisible” with two men associated with their cases. Ms. Petito’s case has attracted the attention of Duane Chapman, better known as Dog the Bounty Hunter. This week the reality show star was seen on video news sources as he joined the hunt to find Gabby’s fiancé (and suspected killer) Brian Laundrie. The “invisible” man associated with Clara Birdlong is Samuel Little. NBC News reports “the FBI named him the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.” Before his 2020 death in a California prison, at the age of eighty, this invisible man confessed to Texas Ranger James Holland that he had killed more than 90 people across the United States. Samuel Little was never held accountable for Clara’s death or 86 of the other “invisible” people he killed.
The difference between murder victims who are “visible” and those who are “invisible” is the subject of several news stories this week. Reuters reports that Anna King, mother of Pepita Redhair, is organizing a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 3 “to seek justice for her daughter after the disappearance of another young American woman, Gabby Petito, gained global attention.” Prior to this story no media outlet had covered Pepita’s case. ABC News 7 in Chicago interviewed Maria Gonzalez, mother of Brenda Gonzalez-Jackson who disappeared in January of 2016. Gonzalez told reporters her daughter’s case hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves: “I just wish that there was more publicity and more work on that case.”
The Bible has an incident when the “invisible” became “visible,” and justice was done. In Judges 19, a runaway (whose name the Bible never reveals) is brutally killed in the town of Gibeah. Since many of the locals had a hand in her death, the family did not seek justice in the town. Instead, they launched a national campaign to make sure everyone saw what had been done to her (Judges 19:29). The people of Israel responded, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something!” The nation saw to it that her murderers were punished (Judge 20:48).
As Sunday’s headline in Texas News Today proclaims “Petito Case Updates Call to Missing Person Spotlight,” Gabby’s visibility is helping the invisibility of others. The Twitter hashtag #findgabypetito has made those with Twitter accounts aware of several cases that had received no previous media attention. The challenge for the rest of us without Twitter accounts is find a way to see the disappearance of people who are already “invisible.” And as the Bible (and Dog the Bounty Hunter) shows us, it is not enough to see, we must get involved.