FRUITLAND, Idaho — It has been nearly five months since five-year-old Michael Vaughan was reported missing from his family's neighborhood in Fruitland.
Since the search began on July 27, law enforcement agencies have checked out hundreds of tips, conducted numerous searches and investigated several areas where he could be. Meanwhile, his family and the community around them ask for his safe return home.
"We always put the Christmas tree up as a family and decorate it together. It's always something we do," said Brandi Neal, Michael's mother. "Talking with the older kids a day before yesterday, we weren't going to put it up this year."
Generosity is something Neal and her family have seen a lot of in the past few months. Fruitland High School students donated a Christmas tree earlier this week, decorated with ornaments -- another act of kindness from a community shaken by the disappearance of the young boy.
"This was a blessing," Neal said as she smiled and stared at the tree standing in her living room.
A blessing, but what she is really looking for is a clue to what happened to her blue-eyed, blonde-haired son.
"I don't even know how to explain how you do it every day and how you keep going, but you can't give up. You have to try," Neal said.
Neal was at work on July 27 while Michaels' father, Tyler Vaughan, was watching the kids. Neal said Tyler left the room Michael was in for a brief moment and when he returned, Michael was gone.
"Tyler said he couldn't find Michael," Neal describes the phone call she got that night. "He was screaming for him. I could hear the fear in his voice. I froze at the moment and my coworker saw me and was like, 'Go!' and I ran. I ran and grabbed my purse and drove as fast as I could here."
As she pulled into her neighborhood that night, Neal saw police and neighbors on the streets and in the fields near her home shouting and searching for Michael.
"It's a blur because it was all so much," Neal said. "There were people still searching out in the fields at four o'clock in the morning, community members. We didn't leave the outside for months."
Although Neal describes Michael as a friendly and curious boy, she said he rarely wandered off outside by himself. Nearly every time he would go in the front yard, he would be accompanied by a parent or his older siblings. The few times Michael did venture off by himself it would never be farther than the end of their street.
"The feeling was he may have wandered, but I didn't believe that. I didn't believe that," Neal said, then added that she believes her son was abducted.
Not a second goes by Neal does not think about Michael, who also goes by the nickname, "Monkey." Even in those few moments she's enjoying time with her family or watching her older kids' activities at school, she said she feels some guilt.
"There were some jokes made and I got very emotional," she said.
Neal described a recent memory with her family: "My beautiful daughter [said], 'Momma, it's OK not to live in sadness all the time.' She's right."
"She said, 'It's not that you're not thinking about him and we're not thinking about him, but we got to try, Momma.'"
While Neal tries to live in the present more, her desire to find Michael stays just as strong. She continues to ask everyone to share Michael's story in the hopes someone will come forward to the information to where her son maybe.
"Somebody has to know something, somebody has to have seen something and we just try to keep pushing forward," Neal said.
Neal and her family thank everyone who has been there for them throughout the past few months and those who continue to share Michael's name and picture. She hopes his story will continue to reach new people.
Neal said she and her family continue working with the Fruitland Police Department and added they have become family to her. A detective and captain with the Fruitland PD dropped off the decorated Christmas Tree.
Fruitland Police are still asking for help to identify the driver of a white Honda Pilot seen leaving the area of SW 8th Street at around 6:47 p.m. on July 27. They also are looking to identify a man with dark hair, wearing a white T-shirt and black shorts seen walking in that area around the same time.
Michael is about 3 feet, 7 inches tall, weighs about 50 pounds, has blond hair and blue eyes, and was last seen wearing a blue Minecraft T-shirt and dark blue briefs. Michael also answers to his nickname, "Monkey."
Anyone with any information is urged to contact the Fruitland Police Department at 208-642-6006, extension 0 or contact the department through its tip line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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