Michael Joseph Vaughan is a boisterous 5 y/o little boy who loves camping, monster trucks and playing in the dirt. Michael’s nickname is Monkey. Michael has been missing from Fruitland, Idaho since July 27, 2021.
Fruitland is around 50 miles from Boise. Fruitland is named after apple orchards that surround the community, and its slogan is “The Big Apple of Idaho.”
As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 4,684, up from 3,805 in 2000. The Fruitland police force is made up of just 12 officers
Michael’s mother is Brandi Neal, his dad is Tyler Vaughan. Arya is Michael’s little sister – I believe she was around 18 months old at the time he disappeared. The four lived together in Fruitland at the time – I believe Michael may also have some older half siblings who lived elsewhere.
Michael has been described as a very friendly and sociable child. Online comments say there were a few houses in the neighborhood that Michael knew he was allowed to go to and he would often visit those families to try to find other kids to play with.
On July 27, I believe Brandi was at work, and Tyler was at home with Michael and Arya. Michael had been playing his nintendo.
At around 6.40pm on that night, Tyler left the room where Michael was playing to go change Arya’s diaper. Some reports say the diaper was very messy and it took him a long time to clean it up. There are also some reports that he ordered pizza for their dinner. Either way, he was away from Michael for around 15-20 minutes.
When he returned to the room, Michael was nowhere to be seen.
Tyler started looking for Michael and he soon became frantic when he was nowhere to be found. Tyler called Brandi and told her what was going on. He also called authorities and police arrived quickly.
When Brandi got home from work, she was met with flashing lights and police cars. Neighbors told police that Michael had been seen knocking on doors in the area right around the time he disappeared. Brandi has since spoken to the media and said she doesnt know why he would be knocking, but that he was very friendly.
“It was all just a big blur,” Brandi said. She sped back and forth down the neighborhood streets, asking if people had seen Michael while Tyler spoke to law enforcement.
“I’m just screaming that he didn’t wander off, there’s no way in hell,” Brandi said.
The first missing and endangered child alert went out at 8:20 pm with four different alerts to email, phone calls and text messages being issued to area residents until 11:20 pm that night. Michael’s image and information went out to a nationwide law enforcement database known as NCIC (National Crime Information Center).
The area near Michael’s home is rural and farmlands. Neighbors came out that night to start the search for him.
Dogs were brought in to search and they tracked Michael’s scent. The scent led to the end of their street, away from the farm field to the right of the house, and stopped abruptly.
The search for Michael went on fruitlessly for days. On August 4, just over a week after he disappeared, the Fruitland Chief of Police JD Huff issued a statement with some info about the search to date.
‘ Since the time of notification, the Fruitland Police Department, FBI, Idaho State Police, with assistance from the Boise Police Department and 13 different Idaho law enforcement Agencies conducted complete and methodical and thorough searches.
That search has included nearly 200 residential homes and properties and interviews with all of the residents.
5-year-olds can get into things. We have looked through nearly 200 garbage cans, drained canals and irrigation ditches, and pumped a septic tank in the area that had a make-shift 2×6 wooden lid. We have gathered over 60 different video files from residential and business security cameras and are combing through that data as we speak.
To date, we have received 163 tips. All have been assigned to investigators for follow-up. Many have already been cleared. Others are being worked on as we speak.
We have conservatively estimated the number of man-hours from law enforcement agencies only to be in the 2,500-hour range. That doesn’t include our fire, EMS, search and rescue partners, or the hours put in by volunteers from our community.
I have never seen a police presence like this before and on behalf of Michael’s family and the citizens of the City of Fruitland, I sincerely extend our thanks to all of the Chiefs and Sheriffs who have come to our aid providing manpower and resources over the last week and in the weeks to come. I would also like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to our friends and residents in the primary search area of SW8th St., SW9th St., Crestview Subdivision, Hidden Meadows Subdivision, and the Three River’s Way Subdivision. Your patience with our investigation doesn’t go unnoticed. We have been through your homes and in some instances several times. I truly appreciate your help.
Our search and rescue efforts include the assistance of our citizens from the night Michael went missing to the present. I thank you and ask you to continue to search your property as, again, 5-year-olds are crafty and can get into small places.
Since notification, we have conducted an exhaustive ground search employing the Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue Team, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, both Fruitland and Sand Hollow Fire Departments, and a coordinated search effort by citizens.
We have methodically and thoroughly searched over 3000 acres of farm ground with multiple certified canine teams.
We have searched 29 miles of riverbank using private fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, sophisticated drones, boats, boats with canines, kayaks, and paragliders.
I’m unsure of the number of man-hours involved in this effort, but I’m sure it would mirror the investigative effort.
Drone flights will continue, along with river bank searches by boat.
This morning, the search continued into the area below SW8th St. where some heavy foliage was removed and a specialized canine deployed.
In the near future, we have a dive team scheduled to search ponds in the slew area near the SW 8th St.
Our intensive search and rescue efforts will continue as long as we have resources available.’
In September, an anonymous donor put up a $10k reward for information in Michael’s case.
JD Huff, the Chief of Police, said at this time that Brandi and Tyler had been ‘100% cooperative. Huff said that they were handling the situation as well as anyone could be and that the case is ‘heartbreaking’.
By early September, 370 tips and leads had been investigated in Michael’s case.
Later in September, corn fields in Fruitland had been harvested and cleared and no trace of Michael was found. Investigators also searched the irrigation drainages in the area, to no avail.
In late September, more tips had come in. Investigators said they had now looked into 446 leads. The reward for info had grown to $26k by this time.
Police released another statement on October 8, 2021. They had received another 25 tips that had been investigated.
They also asked for information about vehicles and people seen in the area at the time:
“We are seeking the public’s assistance with the identification of the driver of a 2016-2020 model year, white, Honda Pilot seen leaving the area on SW8th St. around 6:47pm. We are also seeking assistance with the identification of the driver of a 2010-2011 model year, blue, Dodge Avenger also seen leaving the area on SW8th, but immediately turning right and headed south on South Whitley Drive.
Further, there were two individuals that were seen near the splash pad/ Crestview Park the evening Michael went missing. The first individual was a male adult with dark hair and facial hair, wearing dark colored shorts, no shirt, seen jogging on the sidewalk of SW8th St. near Crestview Park at around 6:15pm. The second is a male adult with dark hair, wearing a white t-shirt and black shorts seen walking off of Sw8th St., down into the park area past the splash pad, towards the lower drainage behind the neighborhoods. It’s very important to understand that these people are not suspects or persons of interest, but it is important to talk to each of them to help us complete the picture of the events that took place that evening.”
By November 19, the reward had grown to $51k.
In a press conference held on Nov. 19, Fruitland Police Chief J.D. Huff said there is an increased probability Michael was abducted in large part because the agency has made no headway in ground searches. Fruitland Police, the FBI, and other investigating agencies have combed through thousands of acres and found nothing relating to Michael. They have searched with helicopters, drones, boats, divers, dogs and on foot, according to Huff, and are following every lead.
Brandi was also at this press conference and she has continued to make many public appeals via social media, begging for Michael’s return.
‘If you have Michael and you’re reading this please release him to a hospital, fire station, police station, or any public area where he may be recognized and can seek help. Do it anonymously, drop him off and go. If this was something that spun way out of control and you’re not sure how to back pedal now releasing Michael unharmed is first step. Look at how his family has been affected by this. Look at how many people love Michael. Think of all the broken hearts you’d mend by ending this nightmare, think of the beautiful reunification with his family.
This has to weigh so heavily on you, this huge secret you have to hide, living a double life. Lying and hiding from your own family and friends, always having to looking over your shoulder and wondering is today the day I’m found out. Well I’m telling you that day will come! Please do the right thing. Please release him willingly! This was an awful decision, but you can do the right thing now. You can also get yourself some help, you need it. You can make this better, not worse! You’re capable of making good choices and doing what is right. Let this be one of them. Please give his family closure. Let Michael come home!
#bringmonkeyhome #monkeysarmy #MichaelVaughan’
Brandi has spoken to the media about how she believes Michael’s case had not gotten the media attention that it deserves.
“I don’t feel like he is getting the attention he deserves,” Neal told the Idaho Press. “I don’t want his case to go cold. I want him home. I want every single person in this world to see his beautiful face and know exactly where he belongs.”
Jennifer Coffindaffer, a retired FBI agent who consulted the media during the bureau’s widely publicized investigation into the death of Gabby Petito, told the Idaho Press in a phone interview that she believes Michael is of the very small percentage of kids who are subject to stranger abductions, which according to Coffindaffer is about 4%.
“I believe over 60, 62% of stranger abductions occur right by the residence,” Coffindaffer said.
Many people have questioned why no Amber Alert was ever issued for Michael.
”The highest probability at the time of notification was that he wandered off,” Huff, the Fruitland police chief, said in an email to the Idaho Press. “As a result, we did not meet several of the criteria necessary for the Amber Alert. I’m sorry to report that we still do not meet the criteria.”
held a Candlelight Vigil for Michael.
This info is from KVTB:
The 30-minute event consisted of opening comments and prayers, a moment of silence for the public to light their candles, singing ‘Silent Night’ as a community song, a statement from Michael’s family and a closing prayer.
“We will never give up hope my love,” said Michael’s mother, Brandi Neal. “We are here to help light your way home.”
The Fruitland Police Dept gave an update on search efforts over the last few weeks and said that more ground searches have been conducted in a “remote forested area” north of Weiser. The total number of leads received since Michael disappeared has risen to 738.
Idaho State Police and the FBI are assisting with the investigation.
“We continue to comb through the data collected since July 27, 2021, and it is a monumental task, but we remain committed and steadfast in our efforts,” the Fruitland Police Dept. said in a Facebook post.
“As most of us prepare to spend a Christmas holiday gathered with family and friends, we ask you to keep those who are unable to gather in your prayers, specifically 5-year-old Michael Joseph Vaughan. There will be an empty seat at his family’s table and for many of us in this community, an empty place in our hearts until Michael comes home.”
Michael is described as 3 feet, 7 inches tall; about 50 pounds; with blond hair and blue eyes. The boy was wearing a blue Minecraft sweatshirt and dark blue briefs. He also answers to a nickname, “Monkey.”