Gabby Petito's family praises passage of Billy's Law to close loopholes in missing persons systems
A bill called 'Help Find the Missing Act'—also known as Billy's Law— cleared both chambers of Congress and is now awaiting President Joe Biden's signature. The bill is named after Billy Smolinski, who went missing from his Connecticut home in 2004 and hasn't been seen since.
Billy's Law will streamline missing person reports nationwide. The family of Gabby Petito was instrumental in getting the bill to the president's desk. Through tragedy, Gabby Petito's parents learned how hard it is to report a missing adult.
"It took us over 24 hours to get the report submitted," said Joseph Petito, Gabby Petito's father. "We've seen some huge gaps in the system and this is just one step toward filling those gaps."
The Petito family spent months advocating for Billy's Law. It will require the FBI to upload data from their National Crime Information Center to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons system (NamUS), a national information clearinghouse and resource center for law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, allied forensic professionals, and family members of missing persons.
Sharing data between the systems will fix flaws in cross-agency communication and give families looking for missing loved ones access to a trove of information.
"We found our daughter, but even in that short time, we learned the obstacles that families of missing loved ones face," said Nichole Schmidt, Gabby Petito's mother.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, has been working to pass the legislation for nearly 15 years. He originally introduced the bill in 2009 after being approached by the parents of Billy Smolinski. The couple faced roadblock after roadblock searching for their missing son.
"Families all across this country who have a loved one, a son or a daughter go missing, have been blocked from being able to participate in the search for their loved one because there's no one place where all of the information is stored," Sen. Murphy said.
The sheer volume of missing and unidentified person cases is a big challenge for law enforcement agencies tasked with resolving these cases. More than 600,000 people go missing in the U.S. every year and approximately 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year, according to NamUS.
NamUS is an important tool for families searching for their missing loved ones. It connects them with criminal justice professionals and empowers them to enter and search case information.
Billy's Law will ensure that law enforcement databases are more accessible and comprehensive. Its passage through Congress would not have happened without advocacy from Gabby Petito's family, particularly her father Joseph Petito. He has become a strong advocate in missing person cases.
"I am so proud of the work that [he has] done to help get this bill passed and I know Gabby is looking down and is extremely proud," said Tara Wickman Petito, Gabby Petito's stepmother.