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Remains of long-missing Idaho woman found in eastern Oregon

A long search for a missing Boise woman in the mountain range north of the Jordan Valley ended last month with the discovery of her remains about two miles from where her vehicle was found abandoned last June.

Malheur County Sheriff Travis Johnson confirmed the discovery of Gwen Brunelle's remains in an area about 18 miles north of Jordan Valley in the Succor Creek area.

According to her father, Andy Brunelle of Boise, an analysis of drone photography provided crucial clues that led to her discovery.

Gwen Brunelle was 27 years old when she left her Boise home with a car full of 11 show rabbits in June 2023 for a trip to California, according to her family.

She was seen the following day in Jordan Valley and her vehicle was found abandoned on a gravel road on Succor Creek Road, a busy gravel road that leads to scenic Leslie Gulch. The retreat is located about a half-mile off U.S. Highway 95, north of Jordan Valley near the Oregon-Idaho border.

In the months that followed, police and volunteers conducted search after search to look for the missing woman. In September of this year, searchers found clothing but no trace of Brunelle. The family continued to post updates on a website dedicated to her case.

Her father said in an interview with Malheur Enterprise on Wednesday, May 1, that aerial photos taken by Terravata of Homedale, Idaho, covered more than 4,000 acres in the region.

Andy Brunelle said the photos were shared in March with the Sherwood nonprofit Aloft Drone Search. The organization helps families and authorities search for missing people and uses image analysis software to examine drone footage.

“They found something,” the father said in her analysis, alerting the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office to the clues.

On April 8, the sheriff's office found some remains in an open pasture area and notified Andy and his wife Betsy. The Oregon coroner's office confirmed the identity through dental records and authorities notified the Brunelles on Tuesday, April 30.

Johnson said the remains were found just outside the large search area covered in previous searches.

“It was truly a remarkable find,” he said.

Andy Brunelle said he and his wife got close to the remains during a search with volunteers last November.

“I got within 400 feet of her,” Brunelle said.

“We know this has been and will continue to be a very difficult time for this family,” Johnson said in a statement. “MCSO would like to sincerely thank all of the volunteers who assisted in this search effort. Countless hours of volunteer help were spent on this effort. So many have volunteered their time and resources to help another community member.”

Betsy Brunelle said the discovery brought closure to the family.

“It’s been a long ten months,” she said.

The family plans to hold a memorial service.

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Les Zaitz is editor of Salem Reporter and also serves as editor and publisher of Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.

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