From dawn to dusk on Sunday, hundreds of volunteers formed a search party, scouring swampy land and rough terrain in Pine County, Minnesota, hoping to find a Wisconsin mother of four who has been missing since September.
Ashley Miller Carlson, 33, of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, was last seen on September 23, 2021, in the Lake Lena (Aazhoomog) Community part of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Pine County, Minnesota, according to the Pine County Sheriff’s Office.
Ashley, who is divorced, was reported missing by her family on September 24 when the vehicle she was driving was found east of Hinckley, Minnesota in Graces Lake. No one has seen or heard from her since and her family is extremely worried.
“She’s just gone, vanished, and we have no answers,” Ashley’s aunt, Carrie Miller, told Dateline. “But we know she didn’t leave of her own free will. Something happened.”
On September 27, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension issued a statewide missing person alert for Ashley, who they described endangered, according to the Pine County Sheriff’s Office. The Pine County Sheriff’s Office is investigating with the help of the Burnett County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin.
Details of the timeline surrounding Ashley’s disappearance haven't been released, but her family says they believe they know who she was last seen with.
On Monday, Ashley’s family released a statement to Dateline stating that they have knowledge that Ashley was last seen with the boyfriend she had been dating since the spring.
He was taken into custody on October 1 on a warrant unrelated to Ashley’s disappearance, according to Burnett County Captain of Investigations, Julie Meade, where he’s being held on probation violations with the Burnett County Sheriff’s Office.
Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson told Dateline that he could not comment on whether or not her boyfriend was the last person to be seen with Ashley and that they would not be releasing details of the timeline leading up to her disappearance at this point in the investigation. No persons of interest have been named in the case.
“Right now, the important thing is to find Ashley,” Sheriff Nelson said. “Somebody knows where she is and we just need people to come forward with information that might help find her.”
Sheriff Nelson told Dateline that the Pine County Sheriff’s Office is actively working with Burnett County and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to follow up on any information they receive. They have conducted multiple searches by foot, by drone, and dive team in the lake, using all crews and resources available.
“We need everyone’s help to bring Ashley home,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can until that happens.”
The family has also set up a private tip line and hired a private investigator, which Sheriff Nelson told Dateline he’s encouraging the public to contact if they don’t feel comfortable contacting law enforcement directly.
Last week, the reward for information leading to Ashley’s whereabouts doubled, and is now $20,000, thanks to donations from the community.
Ashley’s heartbroken family says they haven’t given up their search and are doing everything they can to bring her home to her family, especially her four children, whose ages range from 4-11.
“If Ashley can hear us, we love her, we miss her, we want her back,” Carrie told Dateline. “We’ll never stop looking.”
Carrie describes her niece as full of life with a strong spirit who is always there for others.
“She’s so funny… she can always make you laugh or break out into song at a moment’s notice,” Carrie said. “We need that laughter back in our family.”
Carrie told Dateline the family is touched by the showing of support from Sunday’s search. She added they are catching their breath today before regrouping as a family to plan their next steps in the search for Ashley.
Details of upcoming searches and updates on the case will be posted to the “Ashley Miller Carlson - missing/endangered” Facebook group and by searching the hashtag #BringAshleyHome.
“If this was reversed and somebody else in the family would have gone missing, Ashley would be the first one out there looking for them,” Carrie said. “She’d say, ‘let’s go find them!’ She would not stop for anything until the person was found. We owe her the same.”
Ashley is described as being 5’9” and weighs 217 lbs. She has brown/auburn hair and hazel eyes. It is unknown what she was wearing when she went disappeared.
Anyone with information on Ashley’s whereabouts is urged to call the Pine County Sheriff’s Office at 320-629-8438, Crime Stoppers through the sheriff’s office website (www.co.pine.mn.us/departments/sheriff/index.php), or call Investigator Mikal Anton with the Burnett County Sheriff’s Office at 715-349-2121. Those who want to stay anonymous can call the family’s private tip line at: 218-241-0341.