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Bill inspired by missing Fruitland boy headed to Governor's desk

Senate Bill 1378 hopes to create an alert and notify people in the state and nearby regions and states about similar missing persons.

BOISE, Idaho — Five-year-old Michael Vaughan's disappearance could lead to better alerts for other missing Idahoans. A proposed bill, motivated by the missing Fruitland boy's case, would create an Endangered Missing Person Alert (EMPA) to notify people in Idaho and nearby states about a missing person.

An AMBER Alert never went out for Michael, who disappeared from his home in Fruitland nearly eight months ago, and it drew many questions and criticism from the community members- including Michael's parents.

"It could have brought more awareness. It would have alerted the State of Idaho," said Brandi Neal, Michael's mother."

"It could have gotten his face out to everyone faster," Michael's Father Tyler Vaughan added.

Idaho State Police (ISP) told KTVB last July an AMBER Alert was never issued for Michael because his case did not match all of the criteria. Law enforcement officials in Idaho were not sure if he was abducted. However, officials were able to issue a CodeRED but it doesn't include all of the tools and possible reach an AMBER Alert has.

Although state officials said they were not able to issue a state-wide alert, Neal said local law enforcement tried twice to get one.

"Law enforcement, especially doing an investigation and have been thoroughly searching, should have that to their discretion," Neal said.

Senate Bill 1378, headed to Gov. Little for a signature, hopes to create EMPA and notify people in the state and nearby regions and states about similar missing persons, like Michael.

This proposed legislation would create a centralized communication system for other alerts, however, AMBER Alerts would continue to operate on their own.

"I was shocked to find out that the AMBER alert system is specifically restricted to children where there is a known abduction and there is a vehicle description," said Sen. Abby Lee, (R) District 9.

Lee, who co-sponsored the bill, lives in Fruitland and said Michael's disappearance shook the entire community. She remembers getting updates on social media the night he went missing and helping coordinate community search efforts. She believes an alert like this could have helped Michael's case.

"We are one of the only states in the northwest that doesn't have a statewide system," Lee said. "That means, in Michael's case, we couldn't talk immediately to Oregon, we couldn't share information across borders, this now coordinates with all of our neighboring states too, which is so important."

The bill passed the House 46-18 on Tuesday. The Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted unanimously in favor of a funding bill to follow after SB 1378, which appropriates $1.3 million from the state general fund. 

For Michael's parents, hearing the news of this bill gets them emotional.

"I was in tears because it gives hope," Neal said. She added it may help other families in similar situations in the future. 

Hope is something their family has not lost as they continue to seek answers to where their son could be.

"If you know, if you know where Michael is, please know that Michael is loved and missed beyond everything," Neal said.

Fruitland Police Chief JD Huff told KTVB Tuesday the department is continuing to work through new leads, which have slowed in recent weeks. He also said investigators are continuing to gather new data.

Huff said they've had the FBI working out of the Fruitland PD office over the last few months continuing to aid in the search.

"After taking a look at our available resources, we have been able to dedicate a special agent to this case. He is working full-time with Fruitland PD to find Michael," FBI Spokesperson Sandra Barker said in an email.

Barker said investigators are continuing to search and identify the driver of the white Honda Pilot and the driver of the vehicle has not been identified. Fruitland Police have asked for community members to help locate a white Honda Pilot that was seen leaving the area of SW 8th Street in Fruitland around 6:47 p.m. on July 27, 2021.

Both Barker and Huff said Michael's family has been cooperating with law enforcement.

Anyone with information on this case to call Fruitland Police Dispatch at (208) 642-6006.

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