FRUITLAND — The search continues for 5-year-old Michael Joseph Vaughan, of Fruitland, who was last seen near his home on Southwest Ninth Street at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. Police are still urging vigilance from the community and asking property owners to thoroughly search their property — outbuildings, vehicles, irrigation ditches and any place a small child might hide or become stuck — as well as video footage for any sign of a small child in the area.
“We are committed to finding Michael and will leave no stone unturned,” said Fruitland Police Chief JD Huff in a news release issued Thursday night.
In a phone interview this morning, Huff said they would not be conducting another sanctioned search with the community today, adding that if they needed help in that area, they would definitely let people know.
“We still have K-9 units in the area and aerial units out there in the primary search area,” he said, adding that he was confident the city of Fruitland had been thoroughly searched.
Organizing a search with the community is tough when so many areas have already been covered.
“It’s a pretty small area,” Huff said. “When we start to cover it more than three times and duplicating efforts, it’s not always a good thing and can become problematic.”
He understands that many still want to help, and urges them to do so on their own properties now.
“Everyone is emotionally tied to this, and I understand everyone wants to help,” he said, adding that the law enforcement community will continue efforts earnestly from their end.
Plenty of community support
Volunteers from throughout the community have been stepping up since the first night Michael, who answers to the nickname “Monkey,” went missing.
On Thursday morning, police coordinated a search effort with citizens who wanted to help. More than 100 volunteers met at Fruitland High School Thursday morning to continue the search. Fruitland School Board Trustee Matt Frye led one of several search parties. He told the newspaper he did this to set an example for his community.
“I just know … If it was my kid, I would want somebody looking,” Frye said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Chief Huff told the newspaper Thursday morning that this is the first time during his service with the department that a search on this scale has been conducted.
“I can’t recall … that we’ve had a need for that in the past,” Huff said. “We had people show up from all over the valley [Tuesday night]. We had significant coverage, but it wasn’t directed. It was more of a beating the brush type of thing, see if we could see him walking along the street.”
However, Thursday morning was different.
“This is a more organized and directed effort and we think that it might yield some information that might point us in the right direction,” the chief said.
An Amber Alert has not been issued, as no persons of interest who may have the child in their custody or suspect vehicles have been identified, according to Huff. Alerts did go out through Payette County’s Code Red system as well as Idaho’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse.
“The amount of information we have is limited,” he said.
Huff noted that roughly half of the city had been searched by Thursday morning. He expressed his gratitude to the community for the help they have given so far.
“Just the number of people who have showed up, expressing concern and wanting to become a part of this thing and get involved, I can’t tell you how it makes me feel. It’s a pretty awesome feeling to know you have that much support.”
Multiple agencies involved
Regional law enforcement agencies, including Idaho State Police, have been assisting Fruitland Police Department in the search, too. On Thursday the FBI also got involved.
On Wednesday, agencies conducted a methodical search of residences near the home and continued searches of the area by K-9 units and Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue Team. The U.S. Army National Guard deployed a helicopter, searching the entire area in cooperation with those on the ground. Also, as part of the search, water levels in area canals were reduced and searched by law enforcement K-9 and fire personnel, according to the release. After the area was thoroughly searched, the the search and rescue team was released.
‘Every minute counts’
Currently, police are seeking to “recreate a complete picture of the time and area Michael was last seen. As such, they are asking for the public to help identify people who were “in the area of SW 8th St., SW 9th St. and Cornwall Way from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. on July 27.”
Individuals who were, or who know of someone who was, are urged to contact police.
“Even if you do not believe you have relevant information, please contact us,” reads the release. “Every minute counts when searching for a missing child and we appreciate the public’s continued support and cooperation as we search for Michael.”
Huff says they are grateful for the public’s assistance. As tips have been pouring in, police are following up on each lead. However, he urges people not to share speculation or rumors, as it makes the process more difficult for investigators.
“Please understand the investigation of a missing child is very resource intensive,” Huff said. “We ask that the community only report information from credible sources to law enforcement.”
Additionally, Huff said Michael’s family is fully cooperating with law enforcement, and asks the community to respect their privacy during this difficult time.
Michael was last seen wearing a light blue Minecraft t-shirt, dark blue boxer briefs and child’s size 11, blue flip flops. He is 43 inches tall, 50 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes.