Parents of missing postal worker issue plea for same attention as Gabby Petito case: ‘We haven’t forgotten’
For nearly three years, the family of Kierra Coles have fought to raise awareness of their daughter, who was pregnant when she went missing in 2018.
After intense media attention and then a manhunt led to the discovery of the body of Gabby Petito, family and friends of people missing locally are calling for renewed efforts to find their loved ones.
The case of Petito, who’s white, made national headlines and triggered a nationwide search to find her, which ultimately proved successful when her remains were found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest.
But the nonstop news coverage of her disappearance raised questions as to why missing Black or Indigenous people aren’t always given the same kind of attention as Petito.
That included questions from advocates for pregnant postal worker Kierra Coles, who on Friday called on police to put a similar amount of energy into finding Coles. Coles, then 26 and three months pregnant, went missing on Oct. 2, 2018. She was last seen that day leaving her apartment near 82nd Street and Coles Avenue, according to a missing person alert from Chicago police.
“I want you all to treat Kierra Coles’ case like it was Gabby [Petito’s] case,” George Ivy, a family friend, said Friday at a press conference. “You all broke your necks — police, detectives, FBI — for Gabby because she was white. I need you all to man up and do stuff for Kierra Coles.”
Questions had also been raised by the mother of Jelani Day, a 25-year-old graduate student at Illinois State University, after the disappearance of her son earlier this month.
Day was reported missing on Aug. 25 and a male body was found floating near the south bank of the Illinois River on Sept. 4, but the body was not identified as Day until Thursday. His identification came a day after his family spoke out to media to draw attention to his case.
Nationally, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said constant coverage of Petito’s disappearance and death should put a spotlight on the hundreds of Native American girls and women who are missing or murdered in the United States.
“I feel like it’s my job to lift up this issue as best I can. And hopefully, the folks who are writing the news, and broadcasting the news will understand that these women are also friends, neighbors, classmates and work colleagues,’’ Haaland, who is the first Native American Cabinet secretary, said on Thursday at an unrelated press conference.
She said while her heart goes out to the Petito’s family, she also grieves for “so many Indigenous women’’ whose families have endured similar heartache “for the last 500 years.’’
A Chicago Police Department spokesperson said Coles’ case “remains a high-risk missing person investigation” and said police are working jointly with the United States Postal Inspection Service and FBI.
“At this point, anybody with knowledge of her last whereabouts is asked to contact the Chicago Police Department,” said the spokesperson. “We are seeking any and all information in an attempt to locate her and we won’t stop until we do.”
Karen Philips, Coles’ mother, said she has been suffering intense heartache for nearly three years. She said police have stopped returning her phone calls and the only thing she knows about the case is that it remains active.
“This just unfair and they are showing that it’s unfair,” Philips said.
Family and friends held a celebration on what would’ve been Coles’ 29th birthday Friday.
“When you go from seeing your child almost every day to not seeing her for nearly three years, nobody out here can imagine,” Philips said.
Mack Julion, president of the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said he recognizes the significant amount of press coverage Coles received when she first disappeared, but said attention “fell off a cliff … fast.”
“But we haven’t forgotten. We still want answers, we want a resolution, we want closure,” Julion said. “We believe that she is somewhere and we’re always going to hold out that hope.”
Joseph Coles, her father, said many unanswered questions remain.
“Last thing I head was that they have an eye on someone, but do I believe that?” he said. “I doubt it because if they did have something going on, they would’ve called and updated me which they didn’t. I called them.”
He said he has become more frustrated with police as they roll out new task forces to target crimes like carjacking, but he said finding missing Black women and children is not as urgent.
Advocates said they’ve raised a reward to $47,500 for information that leads to her discovery.