More than two months after Wisconsin mother of four Ashley Miller Carlson vanished, her family will finally be able to bring her home -- but not in the way they had hoped.
On Saturday, the 33-year-old's remains were discovered in a wooded area off Grace Lake Road in Hinckley, Minnesota, a couple of miles from where her car had been found partly submerged in Graces Lake back in September, according to Applied Professional Services, a Duluth-based investigation firm hired by the family.
"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," Krista Struck, Ashley's mother, said in a statement released on Saturday.
Ashley's remains were located on Saturday around 9 a.m. by Christian Aid Ministries volunteers during a search near the area where authorities found her car in Graces Lake after she went missing, according to Justin Terch, president of Applied Professional Services.
"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," Krista added in the release.
Law enforcement was on the scene throughout the day on Saturday, but Terch said the medical examiner has yet to determine the cause of death and there is no word on if foul play is involved.
Ashley, who lived in 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, Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson told Dateline's Missing in America in early November.
She was reported missing on September 24 after her car was found partly submerged in Graces Lake. For two months, authorities across multiple counties executed extensive ground and air searches. Hundreds of volunteers scoured the area looking for Ashley and thousands came together online to raise awareness by posting updates on the "Ashley Miller Carlson - missing/endangered" Facebook group page, holding fundraisers and prayer vigils.
Private investigators set up a 24-hour private tip line, and all information was passed along to the Pine County Sheriff's Office, which is the investigating agency. APS did not give additional details about where the remains were found or what led searchers to the area, but credited the more than 70 calls to its 24-hour tip line, as being valuable in helping to locate Ashley.
"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 release. "But at least there is closure to this tragedy, and we know the family finds some comfort in that."
Carrie Miller, Ashley's aunt, reached out to Dateline following the heartbreaking news and expressed gratitude to the community and the media for their help in bringing Ashley home.
She described her niece as someone with a strong spirit who could always make people laugh, was always willing to help others, and loved her family, especially her children, with all of her heart.
"As a family, we are devastated, angry, frustrated and everything in between," she wrote in a post on Facebook. "Yet, we did it, we did #BringAshleyHome which is what we set out to do. It brings us comfort and relief knowing she is back where she belongs, with her mom, her 4 kids and her family that love her beyond any words can describe."
"Ashley, words will never be enough to tell you and show you how much you are loved and missed. Thank you for all that you shared with the countless people you shared your life with. Rest easy, sweet girl and know that we will be here with and for your mom, your 4 beautiful children as well as all of the family and friends you touched. I infinitely love you. ❤️"
Anyone with additional information on Ashley's 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 the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-222-8477.