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'What about Lauren Cho?': Friends of missing N.J. woman spread the word

Social media users call attention to the disappearance of a Korean American woman in June, also near a national park.

As awareness of missing person cases increases nationwide, friends and family of 30-year-old Lauren “El” Cho, who disappeared near Joshua Tree National Park in California in June, are asking people to bring the same energy to finding her. 

“Where is my sister?!” a sibling posted on Facebook in August. Since early July, the family has run a page called “Missing Person: Lauren ‘El’ Cho” to raise awareness as they wait for updates from authorities. 

“Someone knows what happened,” the post continued. 

Recent interest in missing persons cases, fueled by the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, inspired some friends of Cho to spread her story on Twitter. 

“Despite how much it hurts to reopen this, I want to use the attention now and just power through,” one of Cho’s friends said in a now-viral tweet spreading details about her disappearance and last whereabouts. 

Cho, a resident of New Jersey, went missing on June 28 around 5 p.m. when she left her Airbnb on a remote, mountainous trail in Yucca Valley, California. Cho was traveling with her friends and ex-boyfriend, and they told police that when they last saw her, she walked away from the residence and into the desert with no food, water or cellphone. 

Police conducted an aerial search almost a month later, on July 24, and on July 31 they searched the property where Cho had been staying. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department told NBC Asian America that the search for Cho has never stopped, but the Sheriff’s Specialized Investigations Division became involved this month after the local police had “exhausted their investigation.”

One of Cho's family members said they are posting updates on a public Facebook page.

“It’s the world’s worst waiting game,” the family said on Facebook. 

As the search continues, those close to Cho say they miss a kind, loving daughter, sister and aunt. 

“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,” the family said on Facebook. “But this is where El really shines: as an aunt. 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.”

The public reaction to Petito’s disappearance caused some to cite “missing white woman syndrome,” in which much less media attention is given to people of color who go missing. People on social media have been re-upping unsolved cases of POC disappearances, including many in national parks. 

Many have pointed to Cho’s case as one that barely got any public attention when it was first reported. 

“If Missing White Woman Syndrome isn’t real, then can you guys please prove the complainers wrong and make some noise for this Korean American woman? Lauren Cho has been missing for MONTHS,” one person tweeted. 

But the family says they don’t want the public to make comparisons. 

“We realize that on the surface, the public information for both cases share some similarities,” they said on Facebook. “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. 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.”