Remains found earlier this month in California’s Yucca Valley have been identified as those of missing person Lauren Cho, a 30-year-old resident of New Jersey who had traveled across the country to start a new life. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday that its coroner division had positively identified the human remains to be Cho. The cause and manner of death is pending toxicology results.
Authorities discovered the remains on Oct. 9 during the search for Cho “in the rugged terrain of the open desert of Yucca Valley,” according to the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. A representative for the department said at the time the “scientific process” of identifying the remains could take days or weeks.
Cho, a chef, singer, and artist, had traveled cross-country from New Jersey at the end of 2020 in a converted tour bus with Cody Orrell, who she formerly dated, to join an artists’ community in the California desert. She went missing June 28, when friends told police she became upset and walked away from a rental property in the desert between San Bernardino and Joshua Tree National Park. Orrell reported her missing around three hours after she disappeared, and according to authorities he “indicated she was suffering from mental distress,” and that she left without food, water, or her phone. (Orrell declined to comment Thursday on the positive identification of Cho’s remains.) In the days and weeks after the disappearance, Cho’s friends and authorities searched the surrounding desert. At the end of July, the sheriff’s department executed a search warrant at the property where Cho was last seen.
Cho’s case garnered increased attention after the media fervor over the disappearance of Gabby Petito prompted a discussion of “missing white woman syndrome” and the lack of similar public support and urgency in cases of missing Black and indigenous people and other people of color. Petito was found strangled to death near a Wyoming campground in September, after disappearing during a cross-country road trip with her fiancé Brian Laundrie. Laundrie was found dead earlier this month in a nature preserve near his parents’ Florida home. His cause and manner of death are still unknown.
A Facebook account purportedly maintained by Cho’s family posted the press release from the sheriff’s department announcing the positive identification of Cho’s remains on Thursday without further context. The account manager did not immediately respond to a request for comment.