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Case Of Lauren Cho, Missing Since June, Gets Renewed Attention In Wake Of Gabby Petito’s Disappearance
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department added additional resources to the search for a New Jersey woman who went missing missing in southern California.
On the afternoon of June 28, Lauren Cho, 30, reportedly walked away from her residence in Yucca Valley, California — an unincorporated town about 30 miles north of Palm Springs.
None of her friends or family have seen or heard from her since.
Cho was staying on a friend's property in Yucca Valley with a friend and former boyfriend, Cody Orell, with whom she had driven cross country from New Jersey on his tour bus in 2020, according to the Hi-Desert Star. The two had originally started off their California life in a Salton Sea community called Bombay Beach, where Cho bought a school bus to convert into a food truck and began hosting dinners to try out her recipes.
That led to the offer to stay in Yucca Valley and work as a chef for Tao Ruspoli's collection of AirBnbs called The Whole, the Hi-Desert Star reported in July. (Ruspoli is another friend of Cho and Orell.)
According to an interview Orell gave the Hi-Desert Star shortly after Cho's disappearance, he entered the tour bus, parked at the property, on June 28 and encountered an upset Cho, who walked away wearing a yellow T-shirt and jean shorts.
When she didn't come back quickly, he called a group of friend to help look for her. Then, at 5:13 p.m., they called the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Morongo Basin Station to report her missing, telling the department that she didn't take her cell phone, her car, any food or water.
Orell told the Hi-Desert Star that law enforcement found his friends' tracks from their efforts to find Cho, but none from her.
Another friend, Jeff Frost, told ABC affiliate KESQ in Palm Springs that Cho had been wearing Doc Martens — which have a distinguishable sole pattern — when she vanished, and authorities believed she might have hitchhiked out of the area.
He also said that she expressed "some wishes to self harm before she left," leading to their urgency to find her.
Another friend, R.J. Okay, previously told the Hi-Desert Star that Cho had texted him the day she disappeared, asking for his assistance in fixing up her bus that she was converting into a food truck — and noting that she had a pet parakeet who she didn't like to leave alone.
"She would be worried if she was going to be away from him for a day," he told the newspaper on July 1.
On July 2, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department officially suspended its search and rescue operation, telling the Hi-Desert Star on July 6 that Cho's case was classified as a missing person.
"At this time, there is a current investigation, there is no particular person of interest, and all avenues of leads are being looked into," Sgt. Stafford of the Morongo Basin Station told the newspaper, adding that they did not expect to resume a search effort unless new leads were developed.
But on July 24, the department conducted arial searches of the "remote mountain terrain near the scene" and, on July 31, officers served a search warrant at the AirBnb site where Cho had been living, according to a press release issued by the department on Aug. 2. The used seven dogs to search the property as well as other nearby areas for evidence.
At the time, the department said in its release that more operations would be conducted as further leads were developed. It was more forthcoming about the reason for the search in a statement to the Hi-Desert Star.
"We sought a search warrant due to the property owner not being present and multiple people on site living at the location," Sgt. Eric Smoot told the paper, noting that it was the second search warrant served on the property. He added that the weather in the area had not been helping in their search efforts.
There was seemingly no further progress in the investigation until public interest in the case was revived by the media response to the disappearance, now classified as a homicide, of blogger Gabby Petito, and Cho's case was flagged as one that had not received similar attention.
In seeming response, the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department announced on Tuesday that officers with their Specialized Investigations Division would be assisting the Morongo Basin Station in their efforts to locate Cho.
"Future search operations will occur as further leads develop," the statement says, calling for anyone with information in the case to come forward.