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Remains found in California desert identified as Lauren Cho, missing New Jersey woman

Cho disappeared near Yucca Valley in late June after walking into the desert with no food, water or phone.

Remains found in Southern California are that of Lauren "El" Cho, a New Jersey woman who disappeared in June, officials confirmed Thursday.

Lauren Cho has been missing since June 28, 2021.
Lauren Cho disappeared in June.via Morongo Basin Sheriff's Station

The positive identification brought a sad end to the monthslong search for Cho, a Korean American whose case gained renewed interest during the debate over racial disparities in news media coverage about missing persons.

"The cause and manner of death is pending toxicology results," according to a statement from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office. "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 human remains were found on Oct. 9 in the rugged, open desert terrain near her last known location, an artist-oriented Airbnb rental in Yucca Valley, about 30 miles north of Palm Springs.

Authorities had searched the compound and surrounding area several times, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Specialized Investigation Division became involved in late September after local investigators "exhausted their investigation."

Cho, 30, was first reported missing at around 5 p.m. on June 28, after friends and others staying at the compound said she departed in a state of agitation with no food, water or phone.

About a week later, relatives of Cho activated a Facebook page called "Missing Person: Lauren 'El' Cho" to raise awareness about her disappearance.

The case of Cho and those of other women of color appeared to get a boost in attention amid criticism of the news media's intense focus on the late-summer disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, who was white.

Petito's remains were found near Grand Teton National Park, and those discovered in the search for Cho were found near Joshua Tree National Park.

"I want to use the attention now and just power through," one of Cho's friends tweeted Sept. 20 after Petito's case became a dominant national story.

Family members behind the Facebook page described Cho's personality and spirit:

"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. 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."