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Family and friends searching for missing woman in California desert

New Jersey native Lauren Cho has been missing since late June while she was staying at an Airbnb in southern California outside of Los Angeles. CNN's Natasha Chen reports.

Posted: Oct 5, 2021 10:05 AM
Updated: Oct 5, 2021 10:07 AM


When New Jersey native Lauren Cho moved to California late last year she dreamed of a fresh start.

The cross-country trip came at the right time, friends say, because the pandemic was wearing on her. A change of scenery was enticing and the 30-year-old was excited about the chance to work as a pastry chef. Her Instagram page is filled with her baked creations.

Cho, whom friends call "El," had been staying at an Airbnb home in the Yucca Valley, which is about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and about 12 miles from Joshua Tree National Park, when she vanished in late June.

She hasn't been seen or heard from since.

The national attention on other missing person cases has renewed interest in the mystery surrounding her disappearance and the search has intensified.

Family and friends want answers. A spokesperson for San Bernardino Sheriff's Department told CNN it has conducted multiple searches in the last three months. Yet, despite the renewed interest in her case, they haven't gotten new substantive leads. Here's what we do know.

The investigation

The sheriff's department said Cho's ex-boyfriend reported her missing about three hours after she disappeared on June 28.

She was staying at the home in the Yucca Valley with friends, including her ex-boyfriend. Friends reported that she was "upset and presumably walked away from the resort, leaving behind her personal belongings," according to San Bernardino Sheriff's Department.

Cho is described as 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing 110 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. She was wearing a yellow T-shirt and jean shorts when she left the home.

As the sheriff's department and volunteers scoured the area, so did Cho's friends.

"We have gone thousands of miles and tirelessly went to gas stations and pasted up flyers in the the low desert, the high desert," a friend, Jeff Frost said. "We went out to San Diego because she said in the week before she disappeared that she just wanted to go to the beach."

Investigators say the ex-boyfriend "indicated she was suffering from mental distress."

Although the family told CNN that they have no official statement, they have created a Facebook page to post updates on the investigation and raise awareness. The page also asks the public to refrain from speculation about the case and Cho's mental health at the time of her disappearance.

In recent weeks, law enforcement have come under scrutiny for the extensive resources used to search for Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie. Petito's remains were found in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest. A coroner later made an initial ruling that her death was a homicide.

Cho is among several other people who disappeared this summer. But Cho's family posted a statement in mid September citing that the cases are different.

"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.

Ultimately, these two cases are NOT the same and the differences run deeper than what meets the public eye."

Who is she?

Cho's sister told CNN that Cho is a "dynamic, firecracker of a person who is creative and funny."

"She's super caring, very loving and just a really loyal and good friend," her friend Len Gherardi said.

Before she moved to California, Cho worked at Gherardi's tattoo studio in Flemington, New Jersey.

"The plan was I was going to teach her how to pierce so she was my apprentice," Gherardi said.

It's been three months since anyone has heard from Cho, and the family just wants information on her whereabouts. They continue to post on the Facebook page at least once a week.

"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," the family said in a Facebook post last month.

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