Crime Con 2023

Orlando, Florida

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Please Note this about a True Crime Convention; therefore it comes with every Trigger Warning.

Missing White Woman Syndrome: Asking the Hard Questions


  • Candice Cooley, Mother of Dylan Rounds, missing since May 2022
  • The Petito & Schmidt Families, Parents/Step-Parents of Gabby Petito
  • David Robinson II, Father of Daniel Robinson, missing since June 2021
  • Moderator: Nate Eaton, News Director, East Idaho News

The Gabby Petito Foundation was the CrimeCon fundraiser for this event. During the show, slides would come up on the large screens showing the weekend’s progress towards raising money for this cause.

“Gabby’s story spread like wildfire across the globe, we knew immediately we had to turn this tragedy into meaningful purpose. In the wake of Gabby’s murder, Gabby Petito Foundation was born. Our Foundation is rooted in the belief that we all have an inherent responsibility to make a meaningful difference in our communities. We are honored to be assisting organizations that provide immediate tangible help to survivors of domestic violence, and we are proud to work with organizations that assist with locating missing persons. With a variety of big ideas and goals, it is our hope to be at the forefront of positive and pro-active change with awareness, prevention strategies, and education.” GPF website

crime con: the Schmidt and Petito families on a stage for Missing Persons panel
The Petito & Schmidt Families


When presented with the important question of why Gabby Petito’s missing/murder case was getting so much attention by the media, her family members had a couple of theories. They said that at the time Gaby went missing, the news was a 24/7 cycle about COVID-19 and this case offered a break in that. They also said that Gabby was a popular content creator who had a large audience of people asking if she was all right and then wanting to find justice for her murder.

Others in the general public immediately pointed out the obvious: Gabby Petito was a beautiful, young, white woman traveling through the United States as a #vanlife vlogger with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. There was a domestic dispute that became widely publicized when the police got called by a passerby. Brian was put up for a night in a hotel in order to “let Gabby cool off.” If you see the bodycam footage or read the articles, Gabby admitted to having mental health issues with OCD and that she could get frustrated.

At a 2004 journalism conference, reporter Gwen Ifill coined the phrased Missing White Woman Search Syndrome to emphasize how people of color are not given the sort of media attention that white women and girls get. Gabby Petito’s disappearance and subsequent murder years later became another perfect example of this. People of color are labeled as runaways.

crime con Missing Persons panel host Nate Eaton
Nate Eaton


Moderator Nate Eaton brought the conversation to parents with missing children, David Robinson and Candice Cooley.

Candice’s son, Dylan Rounds, went missing when he was 19. As she wiped away tears, she said it took weeks before the FBI took them seriously. It was Memorial Day weekend and law enforcement wrote off Dylan’s disappearance as a kid partying. They said he was 19 and therefore didn’t have to come home.  He was creating his own farm and was diligent about tending it.

Similarly for David Robinson, his son Daniel had roots at home. Daniel was a geologist last seen on the job. The fact that he made future plans with family was an indicator that something was horribly wrong. David said it took three months for Daniel’s disappearance to make the local news. An enlightening fact that David told the audience is that there is no policy about waiting 12-24 hours. He confirmed that with several police departments.

crime con collage: (top) photo of missing person Daniel Robinson at the Grand Canyon (bottom) Daniel's father David at the presentation

“Believe the family.” That was repeated by the panelists. David knew his son well. They were close. He insists that Daniel is the type of person who would check in with his family and let someone know if he was going anywhere.

Getting law enforcement to help the Petito family wasn’t cut and dry, they explained. Because Gabby was traveling, none of the agencies wanted to take responsibility for the case. Finally, New York was willing to file the Missing Persons report. Her family members were doing work that professionals should have been doing like monitoring her social media and credit card activity.

There’s a downside to the coverage Gabby Petito received. Her family got death threats. There were a lot of internet trolls. Some people claimed it was a hoax and that Gabby was a “crisis actor.” Conspiracy theories took off.

Candice Cooley agreed that there is a dark side to more publicity. As soon as her family announced a $20,000 reward, they were targeted with fraudulent “investigators” who said they would take Dylan’s case. “A real private investigator won’t troll social media looking for cases,” she said. Even now, October 2023, Candice has to warn supporters that there are scammers trying to make money off of her son’s case.

crime con collage: (top) Dylan Rounds shown on projection; (bottom left) Dylan's mother Candice crying; (bottom right) Dylan's mother Candice from Missing Persons panel

She did find a legitimate organization, Missing in America Network, willing to help. They made sure that it wasn’t the family’s personal information on flyers. MIAN handled all the inquiries and potential leads. Before that, Candice was doing much of the work herself. She was collecting evidence from a property where she had been given permission, but then was kicked out.

Dylan’s story is hopeful in having a conclusion and closure. Candice said someone is finally in custody, but at the time of the Crime Con event, that person hadn’t been arraigned. Dateline ran a series called Missing in America which featured Dylan’s case.

Just like Candice Cooley, David Robinson said he had to learn how to be a layman crime scene investigator. He had to gather and store evidence because law enforcement was not doing it. Daniel’s family had to fight to get his computer and gaming systems analyzed. Based on what David saw of the condition the apartment was in, he said someone else had to have been in there.

Why do families and friends become the investigators? Joe Petito said, “Take as many videos and photos of your kids as possible. That helps tell their story. And you never know when something in the background is a clue.” Later, when Candice Cooley revisited this topic of gathering evidence, she said that she found evidence and had it tested, but none of it was admissible in court. David Robinson said the same thing happened with his son’s cell phone data. There was no chain-of-custody to verify that no one had tampered with things.

What do you say to someone who has a missing loved one? Candice told people from her heart that she can tell they don’t know what to say, but they want to meet her. “Talk to me about Dylan, not the case. I smile talking about him, but not the problems with the case,” she said.

Despite each family’s struggles with their cases, Joe Petito and the others agreed, said they do support the police, but there were mistakes. Candice added that there needs to be accountability when the people who are supposed to help you, drop the ball.

These families have a message for the media, law enforcement, and the general public: It should not matter if a missing person is flawed, if they had a criminal past or took drugs. That information only matters in regards to how it helps gain leads.

A final piece of advice from the panelists: make sure that one organization or agency is handling the dissemination of information so it’s consistent. You wouldn’t want want outlet to say a person is 5’8″ and 140 pounds and a different one say 5’11” and 150 pounds. The databases getting searched should have as accurate as possible information.


Other coverage…


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