FRUITLAND, Idaho (NewsNation Now) — It’s been more than four months since 5-year-old Michael Vaughan walked out of his family home in Fruitland, Idaho — and disappeared.
Extensive searches have turned up no clues. And now, calls to find the boy are coming not only from his family but from around the world.
Michael’s mom talked with NewsNation’s Markie Martin, saying it’s the first time she’s been mentally able to let a news crew inside her home and talk about the case.
She prays the search for her little boy, who goes by the nickname “Monkey,” doesn’t grow cold, especially as the winter temperatures in Idaho are doing just that.
It was a snowy day in Idaho when Micael’s mother, Brandi Neal, talked to Martin. The low temperatures dipped below 30, making for the kind of flakes that signal Christmas.
“We built a fort and a slide. And he should be here,” Neal said. “It’s been a very, very hard day. I’m sorry.”
Neal and her bundled 2-year-old daughter, Arya, talked to NewsNation while outside their home in the rural farmland city an hour from Boise with a population of just 5,000 people.
It’s “really quiet and friendly. It’s a safe place,” Neal said of Fruitland.
But on the evening of July 27, this quiet corner of the world turned frantic.
“He would have come out the garage. The front door is pretty hard to get out of and you can hear that opening,” Neal said of the day Michael was last seen.
She says her son was looking for older neighborhood kids with whom he could play.
“He went to a neighbor’s house. And another neighbor’s house, and another neighbor’s house,” Neal said.
That’s typical, she says, for a summer night here. But with Neal at work and her husband inside checking on the toddler and ordering dinner, neither parent knew Michael had left.
“I don’t even think ‘hell’ is the right word,” Neal said as the family is now approaching month five with no answers to Michael’s whereabouts.
Neal describes her son as pure excitement and joy as she watches home videos of Michael learning to bake and watching fireworks.
Neal says Michael earned the nickname “Monkey” for his nonstop energy and “being all boy.”
“From the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep, he’s kicking and running around,” Neal said. “He loves cars, he loves race cars.”
Neal never imagined “Monkey” would be the center of a worldwide missing persons search.
Local law enforcement has combed through more than 3,000 surrounding acres with no known clues.
Just to the west of the family home lies the Snake River and Interstate 84.
Could a predator passing through have picked the boy up and hit the road? Police say it’s possible.
“Due to the fact that we’ve conducted multiple searches, with every tool available to us with no success, it increases the possibility that Michael was abducted,” Chief J.D. Huff of the Fruitland Police Department said.
Officials have been flooded with more than 500 tips from around the globe.
An army of social media sleuths are working to bring Michael home. They are also calling for the issuing of an Amber Alert.
In Idaho, the first criteria for an Amber Alert is that there needs to be proof of abduction, something top Idaho state officials decided was missing in Michael’s case.
There are two leads authorities need the public’s help with: Identifying the driver of a white Honda Pilot seen in the area and locating a man with dark hair seen walking toward a drainage behind the neighborhood around the time Michael went missing.
“I have a feeling someone may have been watching us,” Neal said. “That’s my feeling. That’s my mama’s heart feeling.”
Neal firmly denies Michael’s disappearance was at the hands of someone the family knows. And with the changing of the seasons, her concern has shifted to his warmth and well-being.
“Every day, when the leaves started to change, I lost my mind,” Neal said. “Please, please help me. Please help me bring my baby home.”
Sadly, the grieving mother can’t put life on hold while she waits for her little boy to come home. She continues going to work and is tasked with raising three other kids who need her time and attention.
Neal sleeps on the living room couch just in case one night, there comes a little knock or voice at the front door.
“I know in my heart he’s alive,” Neal said. “I know he is. And I know he’s coming home. He will come home.”
Fruitland police denied a request for an interview. But the chief did send an email saying Michael’s parents have complied with all investigative requests. He says the case is far from going cold and they are working on legitimate leads.
The award leading to Michael’s safe return is now more than $50,000. Anyone with possible tips about the missing child is urged to call (208) 642-6006 or email “firstname.lastname@example.org.”