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‘Bittersweet’: Governor Little signs law inspired by missing Fruitland boy

“It’s bittersweet,” Vaughan’s mother, Brandi Neal, said after the event. "It’ll help families.”

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

In a prayer given before a small crowd at Fruitland City Park on Wednesday morning, a pastor acknowledged the day drew “mixed feelings.”

The group was there to watch Gov. Brad Little perform a ceremonial bill signing for a law to create an Endangered Missing Person Alert, the first of its kind in Idaho. On one hand, the law will give families a new tool to try to help find their loved ones. On the other hand, the inspiration for the legislation, 5-year-old Michael Vaughan, is still missing.

“It’s bittersweet,” Vaughan’s mother, Brandi Neal, said after the event. "It’ll help families.”

She noted that the day marked 274 days since her son, who’s nicknamed “Monkey” has been gone from the Fruitland family’s home.

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, who co-sponsored the bill that’s dubbed “Monkey’s Law,” said at the event that when she heard of Vaughan’s case that she was “shocked” to learn the boy’s case did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert. In doing further research, Lee said, she also found that Idaho was the only state in the region that did not have an endangered missing person alert system.

“Living here in Fruitland, this is personal for us,” Lee said. “We were all there nine months ago today when our community and this family was changed forever. We searched our neighborhoods that night and in the weeks that followed, and we won’t stop looking for Michael.”

The new alert system would also serve to help find missing people who are Indigenous, have developmental disabilities, have Alzheimer’s disease, or who are domestic violence or human trafficking victims.

“This bill gives law enforcement a critically needed tool for all classes of people, for now and into the future,” Little said, before presenting the signed law to Vaughan’s parents.

Fruitland Police Chief JD Huff said the law was “monumental to Idaho law enforcement.”

He added that the agencies working to find Vaughan have not stopped their work, and as of Wednesday, had received more than 975 tips regarding the case.

“Though the intensity of our investigation may not be as visible at this point, you need to know that we’re working with fervor every day to bring Michael home safely to his family," Huff said.

Vaughan was last seen around 6:30 p.m. on July 27, 2021, around Southwest Ninth Street in Fruitland. He's described as about 3 feet, 7 inches tall with blond hair and blue eyes. 

The reward for information that leads to his safe return is now $52,870, Huff said, and will not expire. 

Neal said she’s confident in the officers who are working to bring her son home.

“It’s important to keep Michael’s face out in front of everyone, because he’s coming home, that’s all there is to it,” Neal said. “We have an amazing, amazing law enforcement that works tirelessly, and they’re not going to stop until he’s home.”

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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