Gabby Petito search brings extra attention to Sask. missing persons cases

As Saskatchewan's Missing Persons Week comes to a close, a high profile missing person in the United States is driving conversations around similar cases closer to home.

Gabby Petito, 22, went missing during a trip with her fiancé in Wyoming. The search captured the attention of social media and made headline news in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Dianne BigEagle's daughter Danita went missing from Regina in 2007, she was 22 years old at the time. BigEagle said although her daughter's situation is different from Petito's, increased attention could have made a difference.

"I would've liked a lot of help like that, I wonder if I would've found her. Maybe. Maybe not," BigEagle said.

The FBI found Petito's body on Sunday, bringing her family an opportunity to move forward.

"I’m happy for her family that they found her. I hope they get justice for her, that's all we want, you want justice for your daughter," BigEagle said.

According to data from the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police, almost half of the province's 133 long term missing people are Indigenous, despite Indigenous people only making up around 16 per cent of the provincial population in the 2016 census.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said it will take focused direction and efforts from both police forces and governments to listen to families still missing loved ones.

"Whether they passed away or not, we need closure. Those families need closure. Those families need to heal. It’s a call out, let’s help them do that," Cameron said.

Rhonda Fiddler, the missing persons liason with the Regina Police Service, said social media has become a prominent tool in search efforts and encourages people to help by getting the word out when they can, with one thought in mind.

"Share those posts and be kind with your comments because family members and loved ones are reading them and our words can hurt," Fiddler said.

"You have to think about the families too, doesn't matter what nationality [Petito] was, she's still somebody's family," BigEagle said.

Common assumptions about reporting people missing include that a 24 or 48 hour waiting time exists or that it has to be reported by a family member of the missing. Fiddler emphasizes neither are true.

"There is no wait time, if you’re concerned about your loved one, they’ve been out of contact and that’s out of character for them, definitely make a report," Fiddler said.