By Cory James

FLEMINGTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The search is intensifying for a missing woman from New Jersey.

Thirty-year-old Lauren Cho traveled cross-country with her boyfriend before disappearing. She was last seen in Yucca Valley in southern California, which is about 12 miles from Joshua Tree National Park.

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Len Gherardi told CBS2’s Cory James a friendship with Lauren Cho began nearly 15 years ago when they met in choir at Hunterdon Central Regional High School.

“Most people call her El,” Gherardi said. “I always called her Lauren. It was just my thing.”

Their bond got stronger when the two worked together at Gherardi’s tattoo and piercing shop in Flemington.

“She worked here at my studio, and the plan was I was going to teach her how to pierce, so she was my apprentice,” Gherardi said.

Gherardi says Cho did that job for about a year until she decided last November to quit and travel across the country to California.

“The pandemic was wearing on her, and she had this opportunity to change scenery in her life and go after a dream of cooking and chef work,” Gherardi said.

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Loved ones say Cho left the Tri-State Area with her boyfriend and landed in Yucca Valley, California, near Palm Springs.

In late June, the San Bernardino County sheriff’s office says she was reported missing after allegedly leaving an Airbnb resort she was staying at with her boyfriend and other guests.

Investigators say, “Cho was upset and walked away from the resort, leaving behind personal belongings.”

Three hours later, authorities say her boyfriend reported her missing.

“She’s super caring, very loving and just a really loyal and good friend,” Gherardi said.

It’s now been three months since anyone has last seen or heard from Cho, and the unknown is devastating her family, who has started a Facebook page to raise awareness.

“My pain or suffering at all, it’s not even at the level they must be feeling,” Gherardi said.

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Meanwhile, search efforts are intensifying for a woman who has thousands of people hoping and praying for her safe return.

Cory James