TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The worldwide spotlight on Gabby Petito’s death is magnifying the issue of how law enforcement and the media handle cases involving missing people of color.
8 On Your Side’s Deanne King reported on Missing White Woman Syndrome. The syndrome refers to the disproportionate media coverage of missing white women or girls who are oftentimes young, have the American standard of beauty, and are upper-middle-class compared to minorities who disappear.
After her story aired, a mother reached out to 8 On Your Side to share the story of her missing daughter. Deanne found out the story is similar to a few other missing person cases in Hillsborough County. Their names are Veronica Reyes-Diaz, Cieha Taylor and Kelly Vazquez.
These are all women of color who have been missing for over a year. Strange details surround each case, plus little media coverage and varied investigations by law enforcement.
Veronica Reyes-Diaz vanished on Jan. 18, 2020. She’s a mother of three whose car was left in the driveway with all of her personal belongings inside. Almost three weeks later, Cieha Taylor disappeared, less than eight miles away. Then, just over a year later, Kelly Vazquez vanished a few miles west.
“Why does three women in the same area kind of go missing and yet, one girl goes missing and the whole nation knows?” asked Canitha Taylor, Cieha’s mom.
Cieha’s car was abandoned on the railroad tracks in the 9000 block of Trapnell Road in Plant City, and the details are odd. Her car engine was running, the front door was open, and all of her personal belongings like purse and wallet were inside, according to a police report.
“She wouldn’t leave her car running and walk away, she had just got it for her birthday in November,” Canitha said.
When the scene was called into authorities, the responding deputies moved the car, shut the door and walked away. No report was filed.
“It should have been treated at least as a suspicious scene and not just move the car and walk away,” Canitha said.
An investigation was not launched until nearly three days after Cieha’s car was found, so for those first critical 48-72 hours, no one was looking for Cieha.
Canitha said detectives have conducted multiple searches and says news outlets covered her daughter’s story periodically, but now, nothing. Canitha believes race plays a role in this.
“They chalk certain ones up into a pile and just say okay they’ll come back,” Canitha said.
The families still conduct searches for all three of these women. There’s a $10,000 reward for any information leading to Cieha Taylor.
On Wednesday on News Channel 8 Today, Deanne speaks to HCSO about where they are in the investigations and finds out how they plan to ensure all missing person cases get treated fairly. Watch from 4:30 a.m. – 7 a.m. and from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. on WTTA Great 38.