Lauren “El” Cho is a 30-year-old New Jersey woman who has been missing since June 28, 2021. She was last seen in California’s Yucca Valley. Cho was living with her friend and former partner Cody Orell after they set out on a cross-country trip together.
Cho’s disappearance has gained more attention after the social media spotlight and news coverage around the search for Gabby Petito, who was found dead in a Wyoming national park after she vanished. Petito’s death is being investigated as a homicide. Petito had been on a van trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, which they were documenting on YouTube, Instagram and elsewhere on social media, and the FBI and police in Florida are searching for him as a person of interest. The Petito case has led to calls for more national attention on other missing people.
Cho is an Asian woman who is 5’3″ tall with black hair and brown eyes.
Cho’s family said on Facebook that no one is being considered a person of interest or under investigation in connection to her disappearance. “This is still a missing persons case. No need to accuse anyone of anything,” the family said.
The search for Cho is being called a missing person case by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which is leading the investigation. Cho is a classically trained singer, an artist, a chef and baker and was pursuing a dream of opening a roving food truck in a converted school bus, her friends and family say. Cho’s family noted the comparisons to Petito in a post on Facebook.
“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,” the family said on the page set up to help find Cho. “Ultimately, these two cases are NOT the same and the differences run deeper than what meets the public eye. 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 positive resolution.”
Cho’s family added, “Somebody knows something. About El, about Gabby…”
Here’s what you need to know about missing person Lauren Cho:
1. Lauren Cho Left Her Job as a Music Teacher in New Jersey to Go on a Cross-Country Trip to California With Cody Orell & She Had Plans to Open a Food Truck There
Lauren Cho had been working as a music teacher in New Jersey when she decided to embark on a cross-country trip to California with her friend and former partner, Cody Orell, to pursue a change in her life. Cho, known as “El” to her friends and on Facebook, had been in California for about eight months and was “looking for a life of freedom and new possibilities,” according to the Hi-Desert Star.
According to the Hi-Desert Star, Cho, a 2009 graduate of Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey, was a soprano singer who toured with choirs in Europe when she was a teenager and studied music education at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey. She taught high school music in Irvington Township and was a section leader in a church choir, the news site reports. She was “dissatisfied” with her teaching job and moved out west on a tour bus with Orell, who she had previously dated, in December 2020. They had settled in Bombay Beach.
Orell told the news site, “Lauren wanted a different life. She wanted to move from the East Coast and taste freedom. She quit her job and moved into the bus with me.” He said she bought an old school bus and was working to convert it into a food truck, “The idea was she was going to come here and open the food truck and follow her dreams. Bombay Beach is an isolated community and we had a group of friends we started doing dinners with every night with El cooking. It became the hub of the community.”
Orell said they had also recently been invited to stay at a friend’s house in Yucca Valley and she was working as a private chef for a friend’s Airbnb, “The dream was materializing. El’s a super-talented person. She’s a black belt in tae kwon do and was teaching tae kwon do at age 12. She’s one of those super-talented people who don’t think they are. It’s tragic. That sense of self-confidence isn’t there.”
Another friend, RJ Okay, told the Hi-Desert Sun, “She was in the middle of working on her bus. The day she went missing she texted me earlier asking for some help on it.” Orell added, “She’s a wonderful person. El’s great — great sense of humor. Just really sweet. She has a wonderful heart.”
2. Orell Was the Last Person to See Cho & Reported Her Missing to Police … Friends & Searchers Say Cho Had Made Statements About Being Upset Before She Vanished
According to the sheriff’s office, Cho has been missing since about 5:10 p.m. on June 28, 2021, “when she reportedly walked away from the residence where she was staying in the 8600 block of Benmar Trail.” Orell told the Hi-Desert Sun he was the last person to see Cho and reported her missing to police. He said they were on their friend’s Yucca Valley property where they were staying when he went into the tour bus and she walked away.
“There was a 10-minute window there and she evaporated,” he told the news site. Orell told police Cho had made statements about being upset before she disappeared. Orell said he first searched for her himself, then called in friends to help and eventually contacted police.
Orell told the news site, “On Sunday she was going out to meet someone and wasn’t saying who. I didn’t pry into it then, but of course now I wish…” Okay added, ““She was apparently trying to take her car at the time but she didn’t have the keys. She had an intention to go somewhere and I know she was dating again. Maybe she doesn’t realize we’re searching.”
Jeff Frost, who was helping in the search, told KESQ, “She expressed some wishes to self harm before she left, and that’s why we have the urgency trying to locate her.”
3. Cho’s Family Says She Is a ‘Talented Musician, an Incredible BAker, a Hilarious & Loyal Friend, a Strangely Intuitive Gift Giver & Probably the Coolest Sister One Could Hope For’ & That She ‘Really Shines as an Aunt’
El Cho’s family wrote on Facebook on September 20, “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.”
Along with photos of Cho with her niece, the family wrote, “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. 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. Somebody knows something.”
Her family added in a July 10 post, “You don’t have to look very hard to find comments about this case on any social media platform, where you’ll find endless speculations/rumors. People flock to these types of posts to play armchair detectives or psychologists, but just remember that the authorities are still actively involved. Don’t become discouraged by false narratives or attempts at misdirection. El is going to be so pissed when she gets around to reading what some people have been saying 😂.”
4. Cho’s Family Has Been Providing Updates on the Search for Her on a Facebook Page, ‘Find Lauren Cho’
In a “FAQ” post in July on the “Find Lauren Cho” Facebook page, the family answered some questions about the case, including whether authorities have been helpful. The family responded, “The authorities have been exceptional from the get go. They remain in regular contact with El’s immediate family and keep us in the loop. Obviously not everything that we are told can be shared publicly in the next breath, but this is how we know that things are happening. Sensitive and/or private information is not readily provided to anyone who calls to ask because that would just be unprofessional (if not detrimental).”
The family said they have decided against hiring a private investigator, writing, “We’ve done our research and spoken with various professionals in the field to reach this current decision. We do have a specific individual that we have consulted regularly throughout all this; should the need to go down the PI route arise, we already have this connection forged and ready to go.”
Cho’s family added, “Contact has been made with several Korean news outlets and we are seeing articles circulating, which is encouraging~ please boost them as you see them!” They said they have reached out to Korean churches in California and on the west coast to help in the search.
The sheriff’s department said in a statement about its search efforts, “On Saturday, July 31, 2021, at 6:00 a.m., detectives assigned to the Morongo Basin Station and Search and Rescue members executed a search warrant in the 8600 block of Benmar Trail in Yucca Valley. During the search warrant service seven canines searched the last known location where Cho was seen and surrounding unincorporated areas for evidence.
The news release added, “On July 24, 2021, Sheriff’s Department fixed wing aircraft conducted aerial searches of the remote mountain terrain near the scene. Ongoing search efforts continue with future operations planned as further leads are developed in the investigation.”
5. Investigators From the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department’s Specialized Investigations Division Joined the Search in September 2021
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a September 21, 2021, press release, “Investigators with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s, Specialized Investigations Division are assisting the Morongo Basin Station in the effort to locate Lauren Cho. Investigators are investigating all leads and working with family and friends of Ms. Cho. Future search operations will occur as further leads develop.” The investigation had previously been led by detectives from the department’s Morongo Basin Station.
According to the sheriff’s department’s website, detectives from the Specialized Investigations Division, “investigate a variety of major crimes including homicides, suspicious deaths, in-custody deaths, officer-involved shootings, child pornography, child abuse, and various other crimes against children. Personnel assigned to the division are highly-skilled and experienced investigators who use the latest technology to investigate and solve cases.”
The sheriff’s department added in its press release, “Anyone with information regarding the search for Ms. Cho is urged to contact Detective Edward Hernandez or Sergeant Justin Giles, Specialized Investigations Division, at (909) 387-3589. You may remain anonymous by contacting the We-Tip hotline at 800-78-CRIME (27463) or www.wetip.com.”