FRUITLAND, Idaho (NewsNation) — Investigators are working on a major lead in the case of a missing Idaho boy. 5-year-old Michael Vaughan was last seen in July 2021 in Fruitland.
Law enforcement officers have combed through thousands of acres of surrounding land and sifted through hundreds of tips in their search for the child. The search has now taken authorities outside of a home in Fruitland near where Michael lives and was last seen.
Brandi Neal, Michael’s mother, described Fruitland, a rural farmland city, as a quiet, friendly and safe place. But on the evening of July 27, 2021, the quiet corner of the world turned frantic when Brandi’s 5-year-old son, Michael Vaughan, walked out of the house and down the street.
Brandi says her son was looking for older neighborhood kids to play with.
“He went to a neighbor’s house, went to another neighbor’s house and another neighbor’s house,” Brandi said.
With Brandi working at the time and her husband inside checking on the toddler and ordering dinner, neither parent knew Michael took off.
Now, a yard just four minutes away from Michael’s home is being excavated. Fruitland Police along with Idaho State Police are using a tractor, canine dogs and a dumpster in the backyard.
Lauren Matthias, host of “Hidden: A True Crime Podcast” and a spokesperson for the Vaughan family, appeared on NewsNation Prime to speak about the latest developments in the case.
Matthias said the home being searched is very close to where the family lives. She says investigators are being very slow and methodical with their investigation.
“They have a backhoe, they have canines, and they’re putting dirt into a dump truck and they’re going away, then they’re sifting through that dirt,” Matthias explained. “They did go over to the Neal home, to Brandi’s home, and told them yesterday morning – This is happening. We have a tip we are looking for remains.”
Matthias says she spoke with Brandi earlier Sunday.
“She is not doing OK. That is a direct quote from her. ‘We are not OK. I’ve had to tell his siblings that he might not be coming home,’” Matthias said.
Matthias said Michael’s family members do not know the person whose yard authorities are digging through.
“The couple that lives there, they are both now in custody,” Matthias said.
According to Matthias, the couple has not been charged in connection with Michael’s disappearance. She says one of them has been behind bars since around May and the other was taken into custody on Friday.
Police have instructed Brandi not to go over to the yard that is being searched, which is an understandably emotional request for the mother.
“When law enforcement went over today to kind of debrief them and let them know what was going on, they specifically said to Brandi, ‘Do not come over to this house.’ She told me, she said, ‘It’s doing everything I can, to not go over there.’ She said, ‘This is my baby, this is my baby.’ She said she was pacing back and forth trying so hard not to go over to that house,” Matthias said. “She did start crying when she said the words remain were used. She said, ‘I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to use that word yet. There’s still hope. I’m not ready to tell his siblings that he’s not coming home, not yet.’”
The Fruitland Police Chief said the department received a tip that Michael’s remains could be in the backyard of the home, but nothing has been found so far.