In late June, Lauren Cho left the Yucca Valley, California, rental property where she was living, but she didn’t take a phone, food or water, her friends and others staying at the house told police.

That was the last time anyone saw Cho.

The 30-year-old, who’d recently moved to California from New Jersey, was soon reported missing. Local authorities searched the area where Cho was reportedly last seen wearing a yellow T-shirt and jean shorts.

But for months, a team of detectives, search dogs and at least one aircraft looking for “El,” as her friends and relatives called Cho, found no trace of her.

Then this month, authorities said they had found human remains in the open Yucca Valley desert. On Thursday, the San Bernardino Coroner’s Division announced the remains are those of Cho, bringing an end to the months-long search for the Korean American musician, chef, artist and former music teacher.

“The cause and manner of death is pending toxicology results,” the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release. “No further information will be released on this case until such time toxicology results are available and new information is discovered as a result.”

The Cho family did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post late Thursday.


In a statement posted to the Facebook page her family created after she went missing, Cho’s sister paid tribute to “El” and thanked everyone who accompanied them during the months-long search.

“I have been the luckiest to have had thirty years of the best company,” her sister, who only identified herself as HJ, wrote. “… My family extends their thanks to all those who have waited with us, stood with us, cried with us, and hoped with us these past several months.”

She added, “The depths of our collective sorrow feels endless as grief demands space for its accompanying emptiness.”

The identification of Cho’s remains comes weeks after authorities found the body of Gabby Petito in a Wyoming national forest. The case of the 22-year-old woman not returning from a cross-country trip with her fiancé — who refused to provide information about her whereabouts to police before his own body was found in Florida weeks later – garnered national attention.

Petito’s death, which was later ruled a homicide, made headlines for weeks, and the search for her led authorities to the remains of another missing person in Wyoming. But the case also left families of color searching for their missing loved ones asking why their cases had not received the same level of media attention.

Cho had been missing since June 28, when she reportedly walked away from the Airbnb rental where she was staying, police said.


According to her friends, who created a website to bring attention to the case, Cho was last seen by her friend and former boyfriend, who was also staying at the Airbnb where she worked as a private chef, about 20 miles north of Palm Springs.

As the search for Cho continued for more than three months, police found no trace of her.

“We want answers,” her friends wrote. “She is the most loving, caring and loyal aunt, sister and friend, and the most hilarious person you could ever meet. And we cannot give up on her.”

On Oct. 9, detectives found human remains in the open Yucca Valley desert, authorities said, adding that it could take several weeks before they could be identified. After authorities confirmed on Thursday the remains belonged to Cho, her sister asked for privacy in her Facebook statement as her family and friends grieve.

Cho will be remembered, she added, as “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.”