WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – The national story about Gabby Petito is a painful reminder to the family and friends of Ebonee Spears who hasn’t been seen in five years.
Petito was reported missing September 11 and her body found just weeks later in an area of Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Spears, though, was last seen in January of 2016.
Her family, police, the Community United Effort (CUE) center and the community have not given up on the search.
Every year on the anniversary of Spears’ disappearance, her family and friends hold rallies.
“When you sit down at night, and you say, ‘Lord, where is Ebonee?’” said friend Harriet Rivers a year ago on the anniversary of Spears’ disappearance. “Or, I got pictures, and when I sit down in the living room and I look at the pictures and I say, ‘Where is she, what is she doing?’ — hoping she’s alright.”
CUE Center director Monica Caison said gatherings and rallies like that are essential to keep bringing attention to a case.
Another childhood friend said she is constantly reminded of Spears and that she wishes her best friend from middle school could have received the level of national attention given to the Petito case.
“It’s always an anticipation like every time I see anything that reminds [me] of her or looks like her, or when I walk past the picture of her in my shop it’s just like a remembrance of, like, where is she?” said Coquitta.
Gabby Petito’s case drew national attention on both social media and news media.
“They found this young lady fast but look at the — look at the coverage that she got,” said Coquitta.
She says Ebony never received that level of attention.
“The local media gave her a nice play but as far as like nationwide I don’t feel like news coverage — cops whoever didn’t do their due diligence when it came to her in a rapid manner,” said Coquitta.
Caison says because Petito, an aspiring travel influencer, lived on a public platform, her story gained national exposure.
“She already had her own platform and she already had her own followers and people that were concerned,” said Caison. “She lived on a public platform, so there was tons of video and photos.”
Caison says with every family they work with, its all about creating a story to draw attention to a case.
“We’ve released doves and butterflies and — you name it we’ve done it — just to try to create a story and content so you know they can get out there and get the same recognition as some of these other cases,” Caison said.
Since Petito’s case went viral, many say it has exposed racial disparities with missing persons.
Caison says for any family, bringing attention to a missing loved one’s case is a full time job, but for people of color it can be more challenging.
“They have no clue what these families, you know, have to struggle to go through just to get any kind of attention. And if you’re a male, and if you’re a person of color, you know, Indians I mean you name it, its just that much more of a struggle.”
Every year on the anniversary of her disappearance, Spears’ family and friends hold rallies to bring attention to her case. During the gathering in January of 2020, Spears’ mother made it clear — the hope of finding her daughter is far from over.
“We are not giving up on her, and we want, like I said, the community, surrounding areas, everybody, to see her family is not giving up on her.”
Countless birthdays, anniversaries and holidays have passed since loved ones talked to Spears, but her family will not rest until she comes home.
Anyone with any information in this case is asked to call WPD at (910) 763-3888 or 1-800-531-9845, or call the CUE center at (910) 232-1687. Callers can remain anonymous.
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