New Jersey Native Lauren 'El' Cho Moved to the West Coast to Start a New Life, and Then She Disappeared
Cho, who is described as 5 foot 3 inches tall, with brown eyes and black hair, was last seen on a remote hiking trail in the Morongo Valley, located north of Palm Springs.
It has been nearly 100 days since Lauren “El” Cho mysteriously disappeared in southern California’s Yucca Valley, and friends and family members continue to pray and search for any information that may lead them to the young woman affectionately known as "El."
The 30-year-old New Jersey native, who is a classically trained soprano, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and has a passion for cooking, moved to the California desert in December leaving her job as a music educator in search of a new beginning.
That all changed on June 28, 2021, when she suddenly vanished into thin air.
Cho, who is described as 5 foot 3 inches tall, with brown eyes and black hair, was last seen on a remote hiking trail in the Morongo Valley, located north of Palm Springs. She reportedly walked away from the camp/trailer site that she was staying, located in the 8600 block of Benmar Trail, the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Department reported.
She was last seen wearing a yellow shirt and jean shorts, the department said.
Since Cho disappeared her family has created a Facebook page called, Finding Lauren, that has garnered more than 5,000 followers. The page posts regular updates on the case. A post dated September 20 was written by Cho's sister, and shares with others who Cho was and what she means to her family, and how much she is missed.
"El is many things, a talented musician, an incredible baker, a hilarious and loyal friend, a strangely intuitive gift giver, and probably the coolest sister one could hope for. But this is where El really shines: as an aunt," she said. "The love she has for her nibling is unmatched. Even among family, the consensus is that her nibling is the person El loves most in this world."
She added: "Just a gentle reminder that El is an actual person who is fiercely loved by many, and we see the posts, comments, and speculations made about her situation, her family, her friends, her mental health... and one day, El's nibling is bound to come across all of this because nothing on the internet truly goes away. So continue to be respectful, good people. Continue to remember her name and that she hasn't been found yet and we need her home."
She added: "Somebody knows something."
Mara Rodriguez, Public Affairs Division with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department told Inside Edition Digital that Cho was staying at an Airbnb resort in the Morongo Valley with numerous other guests, including her former boyfriend. She said it was reported that during the evening of June 28, 2021, Cho was upset and presumably walked away from the resort, leaving behind her personal belongings. Approximately three hours later, Cho was reported missing by her former boyfriend and he indicated she was suffering from mental distress.
Since Cho’s disappearance Rodriguez said investigators conducted multiple searches of the area by ground, air, and canine with negative results. Investigators are determined to find Cho and have spoken with friends, family, and other guests of the resort. However, none of the information has led to Cho being located. Searches of the area and the investigation are still ongoing.
On Sunday, photos of Cho's tattoos were posted on her Facebook: a "mushroom" located on Cho's lower leg/ankle; a "lamb" located on her shoulder; "No Face," located on her inner arm, above the elbow; "Ten Commandments" and a "Medusa" on her thigh.
"El has a number of tattoos. Many of them are not regularly visible in everyday street clothes, but we want to point out a few that could be easily noticed and are fairly unique," the post read. "Pictures of her tattoos were given to the authorities week one. Someone knows something. Maybe someone has seen something, and these pictures will jog their memory."
Friends of Cho have been on social media trying to help find their friend. One of those friends, who was reported to have last seen Cho, was Cody Orell. Cho and Orell had met in New Jersey and were reported to have dated, and were staying on a friend’s property. On the afternoon of June 28, Orell went into the tour bus that they’d crossed the country in and Cho apparently walked away around 3 p.m. according to the Hi-Desert Star. Orell told the news outlet that “there was a 10-minute window there and she evaporated,” according to a previous story in the Hi-Desert Star.
According to the sheriff’s report of Orell’s call for help, placed at 5:13 p.m., Cho got upset and walked into the hills between Yucca Valley and Morongo Valley, according to the Hi Desert Star. Orell tried to find her, and then called their circle of friends for help. When they couldn’t find her, they called in law enforcement. They told the sheriff’s station, she didn’t take her phone, water, or food with her, the Hi Desert Star previously reported
He told the news outlet that he thinks Cho got into a vehicle with someone. He told them she was going out to meet someone on Sunday and that Cho wasn’t saying who the person was, according to the Hi-Desert Star. Orell said he did not want to pry, but he told them now he wishes he did, the Hi Desert Star previously reported.
Detective Hernandez, the lead investigator on the case told Inside Edition Digital that there was no indication that Cho had left in a vehicle.
Orell told the news outlet that Cho quit her job and moved from the East Coast and moved into the bus with him. He said she “wanted a different life.” He said that she bought an old school bus and was converting it into a food truck. “The idea was she was going to come here and open the food truck and follow her dreams,” he told the Hi Desert Star.
In December, they settled in the Bombay Beach area, a small community that had become known in recent years for attracting artists, musicians, and people seeking a freer, more creative life. Cho appeared to be a beloved member of the community, who would often cook for its members. One item most everyone raved about was her 'vegan basil' ice cream, Yahoo News reported.
According to Orell, the pair were invited to stay at a friend’s house in Yucca Valley and Cho started working as a private chef for a friend’s Airbnb there, the Hi-Desert Star reported. He told the news outlet “the dream was materializing."
Rodriguez told Inside Edition Digital that Cho's former boyfriend, whose name they could not release, was fully cooperating with the investigation and at this time the case is still being investigated as a missing person’s case. The Morongo Sheriff’s Department said they haven’t named any suspects or persons of interest in the case.
Many have compared Cho's disappearance to Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old Blue Point, Long Island, woman, who went on a cross-country trek with her fiancé and was never heard from again, and whose remains were later found at a Wyoming campsite. Her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who had not been named a suspect in her death, has a warrant out for his arrest for bank fraud and the search for him continues. Meanwhile, on Sept. 18, the Cho family made a statement in reference to the speculation swirling regarding the similarities in both Cho and Petitio's stories.
"We realize that on the surface, the public information for both cases share some similarities. We understand the frustration many of you have expressed about how and why certain cases receive national coverage," they said. "Ultimately, these two cases are NOT the same and the differences run deeper than what meets the public eye.
They continued: "We are wholly appreciative of the love that continues to be shown to El. We empathize deeply with Gabby's family and hope that both our cases bring forth a positive resolution. Somebody knows something. About El, about Gabby."
Inside Edition Digital reached out to Cho’s family, who responded that “at this time, the immediate family is not giving any formal statements.”
On September 23, the family sent out another statement thanking the authorities for helping in the search and those who are putting their attention into Cho's case, but also stated that "the page is not a place where we encourage speculations. This page will continue to be a space where the Cho family can provide confirmed updates and hold El in a positive light."
"These past several days have been intense, to say the least. We are grateful for the attention that El's case is receiving, and would like to note a few things," they wrote. "The involvement of the Specialized Investigations Division is not in direct response to the recent media attention on El. Detective Hernandez, in particular, has been a part of this story for some time now and the continued professionalism and compassion of the detectives working El's case is how we have remained confident that the work continues to get done."
"Lastly... thank you to all of you who are working diligently to get El's name and face out across various platforms. As an elder millennial who struggled to make a TikTok (and ultimately didn't, so don't go looking), to see my sister's name everywhere I turn has been encouraging."
Cho graduated from Hunterdon Central Regional High School in 2009. She attended Westminster Choir College and worked as a music educator for a short period of time. She also worked at a piercing and tattoo business in Flemington, NJ, NJ Advance Media reported.
If anyone has information is urged to contact Detective Edward Hernandez with Specialized Investigations at (909) 387-3589. Callers wishing to remain anonymous are urged to call the We-tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (27463) or you may leave the information on the We-Tip Hotline at www.wetip.com.
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