Gabby Petito gets all the attention. Why not these others missing in Florida?

·6 min read

Janie Duval Del Rosario was torn in recent weeks as she watched repeated news broadcasts about the disappearance of Gabby Petito.

“I can identify with the parents of that child,” Del Rosario said. “I’m happy to see that at least now the kids that go missing are receiving the exposure they deserve.”

If only the spotlight were on her own missing child, she said.

Del Rosario wishes the media, local and national, would pay as much attention to Yesenia Duval Del Rosario, who went missing from Hollywood beach nearly 11 years ago.

Del Rosario said she tried unsuccessfully to attract more attention.

“I felt saddened and impotent,” she said. “It was as if my daughter only mattered to me.”

The disappearance of Petito, a 22-year-old white woman, has raised questions about why less attention is focused on the thousands of other people, many of them minority women, who are missing or murdered across the United States.

Some media critics even have a name for what they call “missing white women syndrome,” the tendency of certain cases to attract attention at the exclusion of others.

The families of most missing persons yearn for a fraction of the attention that Petito has received.

Here are some of the people who have disappeared under the radar in South Florida.

Stephanie Bentley

Stephanie Bentley, 48, was last seen at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Jan. 16 at 11 p.m. Jan. 16. But according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, she was not reported missing until Aug. 31.

Bentley was also homeless and was not scheduled to be on a flight. She has family in Broward who looked for her for several months until reporting her missing out of concern, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office asks anyone with information on the case to call Detective Chris Blankenship of the Missing Persons Unit at 954-321-4268.

Noemi Bolivar

Hollywood police are investigating the disappearance earlier this year of Noemi Bolivar, 21, who was last seen on security camera video on a Broward County Transit bus in the 7000 block of Sheridan Street headed for the Anne Kolb Nature Center along the Intracoastal Waterway in Hollywood. She got off the bus alone in the 800 block of Sheridan Street, according to police.

Her cellphone pinged near the beach in Hollywood, according to city police, but a search of the area turned up nothing that led investigators closer to finding Bolivar.

Bolivar’s worried parents, Jose and Marycel, searched for their daughter day and night. Family members, friends, church members, and volunteers helped.

The couple believe that their daughter is alive, but may have been abducted. It is not like her to just leave without a trace.

Hollywood police are asking anyone with information to call 954-967-4636.

Yesenia Duval Del Rosario

Yesenia was 19 when she disappeared on an outing with family members. One moment, she was off to buy ice cream. The next, she was gone, her mother said. She had no criminal record and no one had any reason to suspect she would run away from home, she said. She just disappeared.

The Hollywood Police Department is handling the investigation and has asked anyone with information about the case to call 954-967-4357.

Sean Seebarran

In West Palm Beach, police have been trying to find out what happened to Sean Seebarran, who was 33 when he was last seen on New Year’s Eve 2017. A Bronx resident visiting family in South Florida, Seebarran was last seen along Vilma Lane in West Palm Beach, wearing a blue T-shirt with the words " Shut Up and Stay Calm” on the front.

Police ask anyone with information about his case to call 561-688-3400.

Gwendolyn Turner

Gwendolyn Turner, 55, of Dania Beach, was last seen Aug. 6 near her sister’s home in the 300 block of Phippen Waiters Road. She was wearing a red shirt, black pants with black sandals.

The deputy handling the Turner case is Detective Elaine Seedig, who can be reached at 954-321-4553.

Alison Woodruff

Alison Woodruff, 56, was last seen at her sister’s home in the 700 block of Southwest Sixth Street in Dania Beach. At the time of her disappearance, she was wearing a brown wig, blue blouse with pink flowers and green pants. She carried a pink and beige purse, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Woodruff had been staying with her sister but had previously been homeless. She left the house on Sept. 10 to take a bus to a doctor, but she didn’t show up for the appointment, according to the Sheriff’s Office. She is known to frequent Overtown in Miami.

The Sheriff’s Office asks anyone with information to call Det. Blankenship at 954-321-4268.

Why Petito?

While activists understand and even agree that too many cases are overlooked, some say the explanation is not as simple as black and white.

“A lot of people, they disappear and that’s it, regardless of race,” said Meaghan Good, founder of The Charley Project, an online national database of missing persons cases. “In this case, we had a number of factors that attracted widespread attention.”

Petito was an online personality before she disappeared, for one. She and her fiance, Brian Laundrie, set off on a cross-country road trip and chronicle their journey in photos and videos on Instagram and YouTube.

Petito body was found at a national park in Wyoming after Laundrie returned home to Florida without her. Police have been hunting him in Florida for days, as amateur sleuths combed through her social media entries for clues about her disappearance.

“They’re trying to find super coded messages,” Good said, hoping for fame if they unlock some pivotal nugget of information.

In other cases, the social status of the missing person’s family comes into play, Good said. “Elizabeth Smart’s family was able to hire a publicist,” she said, referring to a famous kidnapping case from 2003. “Publicists cost money. Private investigators cost money. Not everyone has access to that, and those who do are more likely to attract attention.”

Smart’s case was also different because her abduction had witnesses — there was no suspicion that she might have run away on her own at the age of 14. Runaways are also less likely to attract attention, Good said.

Media coverage can be a double-edged sword, increasing the number of people looking for the missing person while simultaneously increasing the number of potential meddlers, Good observed. “Overall, the more people know about a case, the better chance there is of solving it. I just wish all the cases could get the same amount of attention.”

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