‘I need him home’: Police continue search for Fruitland boy, missing for over 110 days

A 5-year-old boy from Fruitland last seen near his home on the evening of July 27 still has not been found, but the exhaustive search for Michael Joseph Vaughan is ongoing.

Multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are combing the area around the western Idaho town and following up on the hundreds of tips that authorities have received. But so far, the investigation has been unable to provide authorities with a breakthrough.

“We’ve received several credible tips,” Fruitland Police Chief J.D. Huff said at a press conference on Thursday. “We work on those every single day. We just find that they take us nowhere at the end of the day.”

Idaho State Police, the Payette Police Department, Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue, and the FBI have all been involved in the investigation, and notice of the boy’s disappearance has been sent out to law enforcement nationwide.

The search for Michael over the past three and a half months has included sweeps of the area within a 2-mile radius of the family home, on SW 9th Street, by professional search teams, trained dogs, law enforcement and local homeowners, according to Huff. The street ends at an open field, which unrolls west toward Interstate 84 and the Snake River, less than a mile away.

Huff said the geographical searches are based on the “highest probability that Michael may have wandered off, potentially gotten hurt, stuck in an irrigation ditch, a swimming pool, an outbuilding, an old appliance junk vehicle, anywhere a 50-pound curious boy could hide himself.”

At the same time, a criminal investigation is underway, Huff noted.

“Due to the fact that we’ve conducted multiple searches using every tool available to us with no success, it increases the possibility that Michael was abducted,” he said.

Though they are not suspects, police are searching for at least four people who were in the area of the SW 9th Street neighborhood around the time he disappeared. Two of the people were seen on foot on the evening of July 27, while two vehicles — a Honda Pilot and a Dodge Avenger — left the area that same night.

A city reward fund — which has been paid into via donations — of $50,100 is available for anyone who provides information that leads to Michael’s safe return, Huff said. The funds will be available until March 31, 2022.

Michael has blonde hair and blue eyes, and was last seen wearing a blue Minecraft T-shirt, black boxer briefs with green trim and blue flip-flops, according to police. He is 3 feet 7 inches tall, weighs about 50 pounds and responds to the nicknames M.J. or “Monkey.”

At Thursday’s news conference, the boy’s mother, Brandi Neal, asked for help from the public.

“I’m here to ask you to please keep Michael’s face, his name and his story in every one of your hearts, your eyes and your minds,” she said. “This is my baby. This is my son. I need him home.”

Authorities are asking anyone with information to call Fruitland Police dispatch at 208-642-6006 or to email findmichael@fruitland.org

“Our family is broken without him,” Neal said.