KINGSPORT, TENNESSEE: In a chilling echo of the widely-publicized case of Gabby Petito, the mysterious disappearance of 21-year-old Layla Santanello from Kingsport, Tennessee, has left her family searching for answers.
Almost five months after Layla vanished without a trace, her mother, Jennifer Santanello, is drawing parallels with the Petito case and making a heartfelt plea for assistance, particularly from the YouTube community.
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Layla Santanello appeared to be in a state of distress in the days leading up to her disappearance (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)
Layla was last seen leaving an ice cream shop on June 27, barefoot and seemingly distressed, heading towards a Five Below across the road.
Jennifer, struggling with the fading hope of finding her daughter alive, has been tirelessly urging the public, especially those who were in Kingsport on that fateful day, to check their dashcam footage and devices for any glimpse of Layla.
She drew a poignant comparison to Petito, whose case saw a breakthrough after a YouTuber captured a crucial video of her abandoned van.
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What is the controversy surrounding Gabby Petito’s murder?
Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old woman, vanished while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, in August 2021. Laundrie returned to his home in Florida without Petito and was identified by law enforcement as a person of interest in her disappearance.
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Tragically, her lifeless body was discovered in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park approximately one month after her disappearance. Laundrie was later found dead in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in Florida and had confessed to Petito’s murder in a note.
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Layla Santanello’s mother, Jennifer Santanello, emphasized the potential importance of similar footage in her daughter’s case.
She noted, “There’s a lot of people in Kingsport who are only just learning about Layla’s disappearance. June 27 may not be a special date for anyone else, and they may not think to look, but please look because you never know what you might find.”
“Wasn’t it Gabby Petito who was found after another YouTuber happened to get a glimpse of her van? If they hadn’t checked their footage, they’d never have known it. We need help; we need the community’s support, we need the help who live here, and we need the help of people all across the country,” added the mother.
Jennifer mentioned, “If she’s out there somewhere, I need everyone to know I’m looking for her. I need everyone to see her face,” as per The Sun.
Layla Santanello appeared disheveled and paranoid before she vanished
The last known sighting of Layla Santanello was at Marble Slab Creamery on North Eastman Road. Wearing a white tank top, black leggings, and no shoes, her subsequent movements remain a perplexing mystery.
Jennifer has painstakingly retraced Layla’s steps, revealing a series of distressing events leading up to her disappearance.
According to Jennifer, Layla and her boyfriend had a falling out days prior, leading her to stay with friends before checking into the Americourt Motel on June 25. Witnesses reported Layla looking disheveled and paranoid, seemingly “trying to hide in the shadows.”
On June 26, she was seen going door to door in a distressed state, refusing offers of help from concerned strangers.
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“There was some kind of commotion happening in another part of the hotel and the people that were outside that night saw her just kind of freak out and take off across the parking lot into the woods behind the motel,” claimed Jennifer.
She added, “She apparently stayed in those woods until morning. When she got up she was seen coming across a field next to a warehouse, where one man said it looked like she was trying to find something in the grass.”
“She asked someone for a cigarette, but they didn’t smoke, and then she took off in the direction of the Kingsport Greenbelt trail,” continued the mother.
Jennifer stressed, “And – this is the part that really gets me, so if anyone saw her that morning please come forward – around noon an employee at the Marble Slab [ice cream store] found her on the back patio, sitting under an umbrella at one of the tables.”
She further expressed, “She looked disheveled, distressed, and distraught so she gave her ice cream and they chatted for a bit […] she told her she was going to go to Five Below to get some shoes but she never made it.”
Distressing events leading to Layla Santanello’s disappearance
The unfolding events took a more puzzling turn when Jennifer Santanello received messages from Layla Santanello’s Facebook account, allegedly from her boyfriend, asking if Layla was in jail or the hospital.
She messaged her mom later that night, claiming “I’m fine mom […] I been with a friend [sic]. I don’t have a phone to text or call. I’m using someone els’s [sic].”
About two weeks after her disappearance, Jennifer began receiving disturbing Cash App requests from Layla’s account, coupled with threatening messages. Jennifer believed her daughter might be held hostage, but authorities later revealed it was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by someone impersonating Layla.
Despite the traumatic experiences of the past months, Jennifer remains committed to finding her daughter. The recent disappearance of 19-year-old Hollynn Snapp in Kingsport, just miles from her daughter’s last known location, has added to Jennifer’s concerns.
Drawing connections between the two cases, both mothers suspect a potential link, expressing fears of trafficking and even more sinister possibilities. “It’s a scary world we live in these days […] anything is possible,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer, alongside Hollynn’s mother, held a vigil for their missing daughters on November 10, seeking public support and awareness. A GoFundMe campaign has been initiated to finance private investigators and is offering a $3,000 reward for any information leading to Layla.
The mother’s unwavering determination echoes in her plea, “If you know something, please say something…There’s an entire family that’s wounded right now because we don’t know what happened to our person.”
Anyone with information that may help locate the two women is asked to contact the Kingsport Police Department at (423) 343-9780.
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