'Annihilation': Internet's crazy theory about novel Brian Laundrie was seen reading
True crime enthusiasts will likely not stop obsessing over what they may perceive as important details in Gabby Petito's missing case
What does ‘Annihilation’, Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel have to do with the mysterious disappearance of 22-year-old Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito? Not much, but internet sleuths, who have been trying to solve the mystery have taken to dissect posts on their Instagram and one video uploaded by Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie on their YouTube channel ‘Nomadic Statik’ — an eight-minute montage of her and Laundrie's travels, posted to the channel, on August 19.
The first in a series of three books called the '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: nobody knows its origins or what happened to the people who lived in the area of the coast that Area X claimed. And previous expeditions to explore Area X had all ended in disaster. A team is composed of a psychologist, a biologist, an anthropologist, and a surveyor, who explore the area and discover its dark secrets.
The critically-acclaimed novel was later turned into a film by Alex Garland of ‘Ex Machina’ and ‘Devs’ fame. 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 science fiction. But what does this have to do with Petito and Laundrie? Well, an internet sleuth, a YouTube channel called Education Reflex, which claims to create “educational videos directed towards international viewers” and has just a little more than 2,000 subscribers, uploaded a video on September 18. It was titled, “Brian Laundrie - Annihilation Book Clue? Gabby Petito Missing Tip?”.
The video takes from the aforementioned ‘Nomadic Statik’ video and focuses on one part in particular — Laundrie sitting on a hammock and reading VanderMeer’s novel. The video’s accompanying text says 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 terrains and go missing. Can this be a clue or was it just a coincide? You be the judge!” Inside the video, this reductive summary of the book is repeated again, with an added line, “This particular book in the series follows four women.”
The video was seen by some as an important find. But it was also slammed by some. One comment read, “I guess you never read the book and/or you make money misleading followers. How many books don't include women? That's the only connection between Gabby and the book. Pathetic video. Irresponsible. And I'm someone who believes he's responsible for her disappearance.”
Petito’s mysterious disappearance, which has captured the imagination of the internet, has spawned a subreddit with more than 70,000 members dedicated to Petito. On this discussion board, one person asked, “On their YouTube channel Nomadik Statik, at 6:40, when Brian is in the hammock, it appears that 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. It's not a movie where they sprinkle in clues for the audience to catch on to.” But they responded with, “I was literally just curious about the book, not looking for ‘clues’, just getting a better idea of Brian’s character. I believe you can tell a lot about a person by the books they read.”
Reportedly, on TikTok, the #gabbypetito hashtag has been viewed more than 212 million times. As per Mashable, Petito, aside from having her own subreddit, is now the subject of multiple 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, unfortunately, is a bad thing.
Todd Shipley, president of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA) and retired senior detective sergeant in the Reno Police Department, the co-author of the book ‘Investigating Internet Crimes: An Introduction to Solving Crimes in Cyberspace’ told Mashable that he is wary of true crime enthusiasts. He said that amateur sleuths can inundate small law enforcement agencies with irrelevant information.
"Sometimes people can point them to where the evidence is, because law enforcement may not find that immediately," Shipley said, noting how Petito's last Instagram post helped establish a timeline leading up to her disappearance. "The problem is that when they get 1,000 people doing that, then a lot of stuff gets lost in the pools… It's the noise that causes law enforcement to use resources ineffectively."
Ultimately, it is unlikely that Laundrie and Petito reading a science fiction horror novel will offer any clues as to what caused her disappearance, or what Laundrie’s involvement in the matter may have been. But true crime enthusiasts will likely not stop obsessing over what they may perceive as important details in a story that no one really knows much about.