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Thanks to drones and ‘small army of volunteers,’ remains of Boise woman found in Oregon

Gwen Brunelle left Boise on June 26 and was last seen at noon June 27 at the Sinclair gas station in Jordan Valley, Oregon. | Courtesy Andy Brunelle
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The mysterious disappearance of a Boise woman has come to a close after a group of volunteers studied tens of thousands of drone images until they spotted human remains in the Owyhees.
The remains belonged to Gwen Brunelle, 27, and were found in April on Succor Creek Road, off of U.S. Highway 95 in eastern Oregon, according to the family’s website dedicated to her search. She went missing nearly a year ago.
Her parents, Betsy and Andy Brunelle, said the “exact cause of death is still being determined, but we believe no foul play is suspected.” The Oregon state medical examiner confirmed Brunelle’s identity through dental records, according to the family.
“There were periods of time in Gwen’s life when she encountered mental health issues,” the family wrote on the Find Gwen website. “We feel she suffered from an undiagnosed psychotic illness. We believe these factors may have created a state of anxiety and confusion in her final days and ultimately contributed to her passing.”
Brunelle left Boise on June 26, 2023, with 11 of her show rabbits, telling her boyfriend she was driving to California to meet a show judge for training. The judge said he had never been in contact with Brunelle, the Malheur Enterprise previously reported.
She was last seen June 27 at the Sinclair gas station in Jordan Valley, Oregon, according to the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office.
RELATED | A Boise woman has been missing since June 27. Her car was found in Malheur County

Gwen Brunelle of Boise enters a Jackson’s in Nampa on Monday, June 26, wearing different clothes than when she left home just hours earlier. The photo is a screenshot of store video later recovered by police. | Courtesy photo
A sheriff’s deputy found her vehicle on June 30 with the rabbits still inside and Brunelle’s bathrobe folded on the ground nearby, the Malheur Enterprise previously reported. Her parents estimated on the website that she died around that same day.
In the months that followed, law enforcement, volunteers and search dogs were part of a large-scale but ultimately unsuccessful search for Brunelle.
In early April, with the help of drones and a nonprofit that has people pore over images, that changed.
Terravatta, a Homedale-based drone company, was hired by the Brunelles to grid search and take footage of about 4,000 acres of Malheur County, gathering tens of thousands of images, according to the family’s website.
The family then contacted Aloft Drone Search, a Portland nonprofit that uses drone footage to assist law enforcement and families with missing person searches, to review the Terravatta footage.
John Jones, founder of Aloft Drone Search, told the Idaho Statesman that volunteers spent hundreds of hours studying each individual drone image. Many people incorrectly assume his nonprofit uses image-analyzing software, but he’s found that technology still isn’t as accurate as the human eyes of his “small army of volunteers,” Jones said.
A volunteer spotted what looked like human remains on April 7, and Jones contacted the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, which sent deputies out the same day. They found the remains, but it took some time to positively identify them as Brunelle’s, according to Jones.
Jones called the confirmation “bittersweet.”
“We’re so happy that we were successful,” Jones told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview. “At the same time, we also know that this is basically confirming to family that their loved one is gone and they’re not coming back.”

Gwen Brunelle of Boise poses for a photo with her boyfriend Gerald Sanderson in August 2022. | Brunelle family photo
Betsy and Andy Brunelle described their daughter as a “beautiful, intelligent, and talented person who had the drive and determination to achieve mastery in the things that interested her.”
Her greatest passion was raising rabbits, and she taught many 4-H students the art of rabbit showing.
“To our family and friends and volunteers who helped in so many ways over the past 300 days, please know you have our eternal gratitude,” her parents wrote on the Find Gwen site. “This has been and will continue to be a difficult journey, but with your support we know we will get through it.”
The family said it would provide details soon about a Boise memorial service for Brunelle.
The post Thanks to drones and ‘small army of volunteers,’ remains of Boise woman found in Oregon appeared first on East Idaho News.

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