What does Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel ‘Annihilation’ have to do with the mysterious disappearance of 22-year-old Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito? Not much, but Internet sleuths, who tried to solve the mystery, dissected the posts on their Instagram and a video uploaded by Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie to their YouTube channel ‘Nomadic Statik’ – a montage Eight Minutes of Her and Laundrie’s Travels, posted on the channel on August 19.
The first in a three-book series called “Southern Reach Trilogy” – the other two are “Authority” and “Acceptance” – “Annihilation” follows the twelfth expedition of investigators tasked with exploring Area X, a mysterious bio- dome that defies explanation: No one knows its origins or what happened to the people who lived in the coastal area claimed by Zone X. And previous expeditions to explore Zone X had all ended in disaster. A team is made up of a psychologist, a biologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, who explore the region and uncover its dark secrets.
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The critically acclaimed novel was then made into a film by Alex Garland of fame “Ex Machina” and “Devs”. It starred Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac, among others, and received fairly good reviews as a work of visual horror and sci-fi. But what does this have to do with Petito and Laundrie? Well, an internet sleuth, a YouTube channel called Education Reflex, which claims to make “educational videos for international viewers” and has just over 2,000 subscribers, uploaded a video on September 18. It was titled: “Brian Laundrie – Book of Annihilation Clue?” Gabby Petito Missing advice? “.
The video is taken from the aforementioned ‘Nomadic Statik’ video and focuses on one part in particular – Laundrie sitting on a hammock and reading VanderMeer’s novel. The accompanying text for the video states that “in their YouTube video (VAN LIFE | Beginning Our Van Life Journey), you can see Brian reading a book called Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which focuses on people exploring uncharted territory and disappear. Could this be a clue or was it just a coincidence? Be the judge! Inside the video, this reductive summary of the book is repeated again, with a line added, “This particular book in the series follows four women.”
The video was considered by some to be an important discovery. But he has also been criticized by some. One comment read, “I guess you never read the book and / or make money by misleading your subscribers. How many books do women not include? This is the only connection between Gabby and the book. Pathetic video. Irresponsible. And I’m someone who thinks he’s responsible for his disappearance.
The mysterious disappearance of Petito, which has captured the imagination of the internet, has spawned a subreddit with over 70,000 members dedicated to Petito. On that discussion board, one person asked, “On their Nomadik Statik YouTube channel at 6:40 am when Brian is in the hammock it looks like he’s reading a book called Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Has anyone read this book or know what it is about?
The poster was criticized by one person who wrote: “This is silly. This is not a movie where they sprinkle with clues that the audience can catch. But they replied, “I was literally just curious about the book, I wasn’t looking for ‘clues’, I just had a better idea of Brian’s character. I believe you can tell a lot about a person by the books they read.
Apparently, on TikTok, the hashtag #gabbypetito has been viewed over 212 million times. According to Mashable, Petito, in addition to having its own subreddit, is now the subject of several discussion threads in r / True Crime, which has 611,000 members, and in r / TrueCrimeDiscussion, which has 284,000 members. And this overwhelming attention to Petito’s disappearance, sadly, is a bad thing.
Todd Shipley, president of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA) and retired Senior Detective Sergeant of the Reno Police Department, co-author of the book “Investigating Internet Crimes: An Introduction to Solving Crimes in Cyberspace” told Mashable that he is beware of real crime lovers. He said amateur sleuths can flood small law enforcement agencies with irrelevant information.
“Sometimes people can point them to where the evidence is because law enforcement may not find it immediately,” Shipley said, noting how Petito’s latest Instagram post helped set a timeline leading up to his disappearance. “The problem is, when they make 1,000 people, a lot of things get lost in the swimming pools… It’s the noise that causes law enforcement to use resources inefficiently.”
Ultimately, Laundrie and Petito reading a sci-fi horror novel are unlikely to offer any clues as to the cause of his disappearance or Laundrie’s involvement in the affair. But true crime enthusiasts probably won’t stop obsessing over what they may perceive as important details in a story that no one really knows much about.