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Missing Wisconsin mother’s death ruled accidental; investigation remains open

The Pine County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the disappearance and death of Ashley Miller Carlson, a 33-year-old mother of four who went missing in September 2021. A volunteer search party discovered her remains in Minnesota in November.

Ashley Miller Carlson
Ashley Miller Carlson

ANOKA, Minn. — A mother whose body was found in eastern Minnesota two months after her September disappearance died accidentally, according to a newly released medical examiner’s report.

The Pine County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the disappearance and death of Ashley Miller Carlson, a 33-year-old mother of four from the Grantsburg, Wisconsin, area. A volunteer search party found her remains in late November in a wooded area in Lake Lena, a Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe community about 25 miles east of Hinckley, Minnesota.

Authorities started searching for Miller Carlson after her rental car was discovered partially submerged in Graces Lake on Sept. 24, not far from where her remains were found. The Burnett County Sheriff's Office across the border in Wisconsin first checked Miller Carlson's home, but she was not there, Pine County authorities said. This triggered a widespread search that involved dogs, divers and aircraft.

Ashley Miller Carlson, a 33-year-old mother of four from the area of Grantsburg and Siren, Wisconsin, was last seen Sept. 23 in the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe community of Lake Lena, about 25 miles east of Hinckley, Minnesota.

A public data report released Wednesday, March 16, by the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Anoka found Miller Carlson had somehow ended up suspended by her lower body from a tree, making it hard for her to breathe. The report lists the cause of death as the combined effects of methamphetamine and “positional asphyxia.”

Many questions remain about the circumstances leading up to Miller Carlson’s death. Pine County authorities in November said they had executed 32 search warrants in their investigation. It’s still unclear what law enforcement sought in those searches, and the sheriff's office has shared few details about the investigation.

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Krista Struck, Miller Carlson’s mother, said her family had not yet made up their minds about the autopsy’s findings.

“At this time we can’t agree or disagree on what the examiner’s cause of death is. Right now there’s still an active ongoing investigation and because of the ongoing investigation we can’t release any details,” she said. “We still truly don’t know what happened."

Struck urged anyone with information on the case to call the Pine County Sheriff’s Office or a tip line monitored by Applied Professional Services, a Duluth-based private investigation firm retained by the family.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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