In Search for Lauren Cho, a Grim Find

Coroner working to ID remains found in Calif. desert 3-plus months after Cho, 30, disappeared
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 27, 2021 8:39 AM CDT
Updated Oct 11, 2021 9:20 AM CDT

(Newser) Update: A grim announcement Sunday from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's department: Remains have been found in in the desert of California's Yucca Valley, near where New Jersey music teacher Lauren Cho, 30, disappeared at the end of June. Authorities who'd searched on foot and by air say the remains were found Saturday in "rugged terrain in the open desert," per the AP. The coroner's office has set to work to ID the remains and determine a cause of death, a process that could take a few weeks. Our original story from Sept. 27 follows:

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As the hunt for Brian Laundrie continues in the Gabby Petito case, a three-month-old missing persons case on the other side of the country is now under the spotlight, though not many questions have been answered since Lauren Cho vanished near Joshua Tree National Park. People reports that the Morongo Basin Sheriff's Department has teamed up with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department in the search for the 30-year-old New Jersey music teacher, who'd driven cross-country with a former boyfriend to make a fresh start in the Golden State.

Cody Orell, the ex who'd invited Cho to join him in his drive out west over the winter, told the Hi-Desert Star in July that he was with Cho on June 28 at the residence they were staying at when he briefly went into the tour bus they'd used to travel to California. "There was a 10-minute window there and she evaporated," he says. He reported her missing at around 5:10pm local time that day. Per the sheriff's report, Cho had been upset before wandering off into the hills between Yucca Valley and Morongo Valley, and friends say she left without her phone, food, or water. Authorities have conducted both ground and aerial searches, including one involving seven police dogs, in the area where she was last seen, to no avail.

The AP notes Cho's case gained renewed interest in the wake of the media frenzy around Petito, with questions arising on "why the public spotlight so important to finding missing people has left other cases shrouded in uncertainty"—namely, those of people of color. Meanwhile, Orell and other friends can't figure out why Cho would've just wandered off, especially because she'd just purchased an old school bus to convert into a food truck. A friend told the Star she also wouldn't have abandoned her pet parakeet, Pork Chop. "She would be worried if she was going to be away from him for a day," RJ Okay says. Anyone with information about Cho is asked to call San Bernardino authorities at 909-387-3589 or 800-78-CRIME (27463).

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