Malheur County Sheriff says no foul play suspected in the death of Gwen Brunelle

MALHEUR COUNTY — The Sheriff of Malheur County says there’s no evidence to suggest any foul play was involved in the death of Gwen Brunelle.

The remains of Brunelle, who lived in Boise and was last seen in June of 2023 in Malheur County, were discovered in April by a drone company hired by the family. Her remains were positively identified in late April. 

The 27-year-old Brunelle left Boise on June 26, 2023, headed to California. She was last seen at a gas station on June 27, in Jordan Valley.  Her vehicle was found abandoned on June 30 on Hwy 95 near the Idaho border. 

After almost a year of searching, Gwen’s family hired a drone company out of Homedale and Aloft Drone Search out of Portland to grid search nearly 4000 acres, including areas that were not searched during extensive ground searches, the drone took and looked through tens of thousands of high-resolution images.

On April 8, 2024, the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office was contacted with the pictures and coordinates to investigate what was believed to be human remains.

Malheur County Sheriff’s Deputies searched the location given to them and recovered human remains that were determined by the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office through dental records to be Gwen.

Sheriff Travis Johnson says her remains were found north of Jordan Valley, and about two miles from where her car was discovered last summer.

Sheriff Johnson says investigators have yet to discover the cause of her death and that there is nothing to indicate foul play, or that her death was self-inflicted. 

“We probably will not ever have any concrete knowledge of the exact cause of death, but I would suspect likely due to being unprepared to be out in the elements,” said Sheriff Johnson.

Her parents released a statement after her remains were identified, it reads in part: 

Gwen was a beautiful, intelligent, and talented person who had the drive and determination to achieve mastery in the things that interested her. Her chief interest and hobby was raising show rabbits and teaching students in 4-H after being a student herself for many years. She touched many young people over the years, both locally and across the nation years ago in the rabbit community. This included in 2011 when she was crowned Queen in the youth showmanship competition at the American Rabbit Breeders Association annual convention held that year in Indianapolis, Indiana. In recent years she taught 4-H students, passing along her thorough knowledge and passion for God’s small creatures. She enjoyed raising rabbits and chickens (keeping the family well-stocked in eggs), her art, and living with her boyfriend Gerald Sanderson the past six years.

There were periods of time in Gwen’s life when she encountered mental health issues. 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.

We and Gerald would like to recognize Terravatta, based in Homedale, for working with us to obtain high resolution aerial photographs of the more than 4,000 acres we continued to search late last Fall and early Winter along with Mountain States Detection Dogs. We also want to acknowledge the service and expertise of Aloft Drone Search of Portland, Oregon, for carefully reviewing the images and ultimately guiding us to the precise location. The Malheur County Sheriff’s Office was very helpful to us throughout this ordeal as well, and we appreciate their guidance and follow through.

Finally, 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. This has been and will continue to be a difficult journey, but with your support we know we will get through it. A memorial service will be held in Boise in the coming weeks and we will provide more details soon.

Betsy and Andy Brunelle