(FOX 9) - The remains of the missing 33-year-old Wisconsin mother of four were found Saturday morning after more than two months of searching, according to the family.
Christian Aid Ministries volunteers and family members found the remains of Ashley Miller Carlson during their search efforts around 9 a.m. Saturday near the area where authorities found her car in Graces Lake after she went missing, according to Justin Terch, president of Applied Professional Services, a Duluth-based investigation firm that the family retained in late October.
Law enforcement agencies were on the scene throughout the day. Terch said the medical examiner has yet to determine the cause of death as of Saturday evening, but he said the remains are believed to be the missing mother. The Pine County Sheriff's Office told FOX 9 that remains were located and the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office is working to confirm identification.
Ashley had been missing since September 24 after her vehicle was found in Graces Lake. Her family says there was no sign of her in or around the lake, and she was last seen the previous day in the Lake Lena (Aazhoomog) community of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Pine County. The reservation is about 25 miles east of Hinckley, Minnesota.
Authorities in several counties conducted "exhaustive searches" with help from partner law enforcement agencies and volunteers, including at least 15 ground searches, seven drone searches, and two searches of Graces Lake.
Ashley was last seen Sept. 24 near Hinckley, Minnesota.
It's apparent in the Facebook group that efforts to help bring Ashley home were spread wide and far. Thousands came together online and in-person to raise awareness of her missing status. Family and friends lit up their porch lights, released sky lanterns, held community fundraisers, organized search parties, reached out to national media outlets, and gathered for a prayer vigil.
"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," Ashley’s mother Krista Struck said in the press release. "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."
Lanterns were released to raise awareness about Ashley Miller Carlson's disappearance. (Courtesy of Maria Nelson)
Private investigators set up a 24-hour private tip line, canvassed the area and interviewed potential witnesses. They passed along the information to Pine County Sheriff's Office, who were also investigating. The tip line received over 70 calls and helped investigators concentrate their efforts in an area where Ashley was eventually found. Pine County Sheriff's Office is investigating Ashley's case now, Terch told FOX 9.
"We’re pleased we could help Ashley’s family during this terrible time, even though the resolution isn’t what they hoped for," Terch said in the press release. "But at least there is closure to this tragedy, and we know the family finds some comfort in that."
Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact the Pine County Sheriff’s Office at 320- 629-8380, the Burnett County Sheriff’s Office at 715-349-2121 or anonymously to the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-222-8477.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.