Ashley Miller Carlson, the 33-year-old Wisconsin mom who went missing in September, was found dead in a wooded area in Minnesota last weekend, private investigators told the Duluth News Tribune.

The remains were located in Saint Croix State Forest, just miles from the Wisconsin border, near a lake where her car was discovered underwater months ago. 

Applied Professional Services, the private investigation firm hired by Carlson’s family, told the newspaper that a search team found the remains Saturday. 

On Monday, the Pine County, Minnesota Sheriff’s Office positively identified them as Carlson, bringing an end to the months-long search that involved authorities from two states as well as the FBI.   

Ashley Miller Carlson Missing For Months

According to local reports, the Wisconsin mother of four was last seen on Sept. 23 in Lake Lena, Minnesota. Authorities began searching for Carlson when a rental car containing her belongings was found partially submerged in a nearby lake. 

After confirming with Burnett County Sheriff’s Office that the 33-year-old was not at her Wisconsin home, Pine County officials began their hunt in earnest. Enlisting on-foot search parties, police aircraft, sonar, rescue dogs, and divers, law enforcement reportedly combed the area for signs of Carlson for weeks. 

In the end, officials said they had served 32 search warrants related to the case. Applied Professional Services reported that it had received nearly a hundred phone calls about Carlson’s whereabouts on its 24-hour phone line, some of which were “valuable” in the search effort. 

Law enforcement from two states launched a massive search effort on land, from the air and underwater to locate Ashley Miller Carlson before her remains were discovered Saturday.
Law enforcement from two states launched a massive search effort on land, from the air and underwater to locate Ashley Miller Carlson before her remains were discovered Saturday. Photo credit: Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

Remains Discovered Saturday

According to KARE 11, a search party with the Minnesota Search & Rescue Christian Aid Ministries first discovered the remains Saturday. The group, a non-profit volunteer organization of Mennonites, was enlisted in the search by Pine County officials after weeks of rescue efforts passed without progress. 

Japheth Stauffer, a member of the Mennonite group, told local reporters his team began sweeping the area Friday, and had called in more volunteers to assist on Saturday. 

That morning, the team found human remains in a wooded area just a few miles from where Carlson’s rental car had been discovered more than two months before. By Monday, Pine County officials confirmed they belonged to the Wisconsin mom. 

The remains of Ashley Miller Carlson were located in Minnesota Saturday in a wooded area not far from the lake where her rental car was discovered in September.
The remains of Ashley Miller Carlson were located in Minnesota Saturday in a wooded area not far from the lake where her rental car was discovered in September. Photo credit: Facebook

Questions Linger in Carlson’s Death

It’s not clear if police believe the 33-year-old was killed, or otherwise suspect foul play. Private investigators told the News Tribune Saturday that they’re awaiting results from an autopsy, which may reveal a time and cause of death for the mother of four. 

It is also unclear why Ashley Miller Carlson was in Minnesota with a rental car at the time of her disappearance. She was reportedly living in Grantsburg, Wis., some 25 miles south of Saint Croix State Forest in Minnesota, before her death. 

In the press release that officially identified the remains, the Pine County Sheriff’s Office said that “no further information will be released at this time.” The Sheriff’s Office in Burnett County, where Carlson lived, does not appear to have commented on the discovery. 

Pine County officials said they are the “lead agency” in the case, which will now shift from a search-and-rescue effort to a possible murder investigation. 

The family of Ashley Miller Carlson mourned her loss Saturday, after a volunteer search team located her remains in a wooded area just over the Minnesota border.
The family of Ashley Miller Carlson mourned her loss Saturday, after a volunteer search team located her remains in a wooded area just over the Minnesota border. Photo credit: Facebook

Family is Thankful for Closure

Loved ones of Ashley Miller Carlson were reeling from the tragic discovery Monday. 

“This is a sad day our family hoped would not come, and there are still many questions that need answers, but the important thing is we now have Ashley,” Kristina Struck, the 33-year-old’s mother, told the News Tribune

Struck also expressed gratitude for the host of official agencies, private businesses and volunteer groups that brought the search to a close. 

“Our family received incredible support from the community these past many weeks, and we thank them, the Christian Aid Ministries volunteer search and rescue team, the many involved law enforcement agencies and Applied Professional Services for helping locate Ashley,” she added. 

On Facebook, friends of the Wisconsin mom had been signal-boosting the search effort for weeks, creating a group page and posting the hashtag “#JusticeForAshley.” After her remains were discovered Saturday, users sought to find meaning in her death. 

“[Ashley Miller Carlson] has gotten people thinking about how we can condition ourselves to pay more attention, become better friends and family to our loved ones,” wrote one well-wisher. “She has definitely made an impact and made a difference, because that’s who she is.”