FRUITLAND — Law enforcement personnel involved in the search for a missing 5-year-old boy from Fruitland got “a little spark” recently when someone came forward with new information. Additionally, more money has been added to the reward fund and police will reach out to the public today to help identify four people who were in the area near the time Michael “Monkey” Joseph Vaughan went missing.
“We recently identified a witness who brought forth good information that can really help us with the timelines,” said Fruitland Police Chief JD Huff during a phone interview this morning. “We think it’s going to be very helpful.”
The chief said it was encouraging for law enforcement that despite Michael having been missing for more than two months, somebody who saw something finally stepped forward with new information. As investigators continue to piece together the timeline of July 27 — a critical component of the investigation, Huff is urging anyone else who might have information to step forward.
“If you were in that area of Southwest Eighth or Southwest Ninth or Washington Avenue near Cornwall Way around July 27 or even earlier in the day, and you witnessed something that may have seemed strange or suspicious, we strongly encourage you to bring the information forward,” he said.
Tips continue to come in, Huff said, with 471 total as of this morning. A large portion of those have been investigated and ultimately cleared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Idaho State Police and Fruitland Police Department.
Persons sought for interviews are not suspects
Police are also seeking to identify two vehicles and their respective drivers, as well as two pedestrians who were seen in the area near the time when Michael went missing on July 27.
“It’s super important to understand that they are not suspects or persons of interest — we just want to talk to them to help complete the picture of that day,” Huff said.
Fruitland Police Department plans to post images of the vehicles on its Facebook page this afternoon. The images are a little grainy as they came off of a door camera, the chief said. However, he believes they are clear enough that someone might be able to identify them.
The first motorist they are trying to make contact with was driving a 2016-2020 model year white Honda Pilot that was seen leaving the area on Southwest Eighth Street at about 6:47 p.m.. The second motorist police are trying to find was driving a 2010-2011 model year blue Dodge Avenger seen leaving the area; it had been on Southwest Eighth, then immediately turned right on Whitley Drive at about 6:57 p.m.
“We haven’t ID’d them yet, but they are in our window, so we want to ID those people and make sure,” Huff said.
The pedestrians they are looking to interview are ones they are having trouble identifying, who were in the area of Southwest Eighth and Crestview Park that evening.
The first is a man with dark hair and facial hair, who was wearing dark color shorts with no shirt, according to Huff. The man was seen jogging on the sidewalk near Crestview at about 6:15 p.m. Huff noted that although this was earlier than Michael went missing, they are still trying to track the man down to see if he can remember the day and given them any information for the timeline.
The second is also a man with dark hair, who was wearing a white T-shirt and black shorts and walking off of Southwest Eighth into Crestview Park, then continued into a lower drainage behind the neighborhood, at about 6:30 p.m.
Huff is hopeful that with the description, alone, people may know someone in the area and the motorists and pedestrians will be identified pretty quickly.
Reward fund grows, special to air
Another anonymous and significant donation has bumped the reward fund up to $40,000. The reward is available through Nov. 15 for information leading to the safe return of Michael.
“Obviously, we’re hopeful that [amount] motivates those with any information from that night to come forward and help bring Michael home to his family,” Huff said. “We continue to ask people to be vigilant, and if they have any information to help us, please contact us.”
The investigation is still very active, the chief said.
“We are 100% committed to finding Michael and we are working on this every day,” Huff said.
This includes continuing to pour over videos from cameras in neighborhoods and businesses, he said. Huff is also investigating the case, with his days largely spent on working on tips and leads.
On Thursday, he talked to a representative from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding a segment they are working on about Michael which will air tonight. According to Angeline Hartmann, with the center, the segment tonight will be on News Nation, a new television network. It will be part of the Dan Abrams Live show, which airs at 6 p.m. local time.
She said the center is also working with Michael's family to put together a detailed story about Michael, that will be distributed on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's social media pages. It is hoped that may be ready later next week.
Family continues to cooperate
Huff says Michael’s family continues to cooperate with law enforcement officials, having complied with all investigative requests and continuing to work with investigators.
“We appreciate the community support, certainly, and appreciate that they are respecting the family’s privacy,” he said. “We continue to ask people to pray, and we are still helpful.
From day to day, law enforcement officials experience highs and lows on the case, Huff said. From the investigation standpoint, they are doggedly combing over every one of the tips as if Michael was one of their own children.
“So we won’t stop. We’ve got great support and law-enforcement partners helping who are just as invested,” the chief said. “Micheal is our priority. During a team meeting the other day, that’s what I told my guys, and what I continue to tell them to compel them to work on this. He is our priority and we are after it.”