[Editor's Note: the following article was written and submitted by Joe Morey]
The truck of 34 year-old Aaron Johnson was found last week on Dec. 1st, but Aaron himself is still missing. Both were reported missing since Oct. 11 when his wife, Amanda Thayer, an LCO tribal member, said Aaron was dropped off by his truck in the 6-Mile area of the LCO Reservation around 6 pm on Oct. 11 and no one has seen or heard from him since.
A large search was conducted by law enforcement on Monday, Dec. 7, in the Blue Hills area just inside Rusk County where his truck was found about a quarter-mile off the Blue Hills Fire Lane between Meadow Dam Road and Perch Lake Road on a logging trail.
The search team consisted of the Rusk County Sheriff’s Department and the Wisconsin State Patrol assisted by eight members of Sawyer County’s Search and Rescue team, two Sawyer County deputies and two LCO Police officers. Cadaver dogs were also employed in the search, but Aaron still remains missing.
Rusk County Sheriff Jeffrey Wallace is asking that anyone with information in the case or if anyone saw the truck parked on the logging trail from Oct. 11 to Dec. 2, to please contact Investigator Steve Gronski at 715-532-8504.
According to the Missing Person’s report, Aaron is 5'7" and weighs 220 lbs. He has blue eyes and dark blonde hair that he wears shaved. He has many tattoos on his head, neck, arms, back and stomach.
On Friday, Dec. 4, Amanda herself went to the area where the truck was found and walked further down the two trails that split at the spot where the truck was parked. She was accompanied by six volunteers. They turned up nothing, but according to a Facebook page set up by Amanda, #BringAaronHome (AJ Johsnon), Dirk Meyers said he and Bob Sander have been searching the area where the truck was found and that they had found what appeared to be his gloves.
A Facebook Event page, Find Aaron “AJ” Johnson, states another search will be done on Saturday, Dec. 12, with volunteers meeting at Ed’s Pit Stop in Birchwood at 10 a.m.. The creator of the page, Alex McManus, said Aaron grew up in the area and knew Perch and Audi lakes very well, and the surrounding area and all of the major roads.
“He made a small teepee on top of a ridge close to the truck and within eye sight of the road and his gloves were found 800 yards from that,” the page noted. It goes on to state he was wearing cat boots, blue jeans, a blue tank top, and possibly a Carhartt sweatshirt of unknown color.
McManus said their Saturday search hopes to find anything that can lead investigators in the right direction.
Amanda came before the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) in an emotional appeal for help on Monday, Dec. 7. She told the TGB that she felt not enough action was done earlier by local law enforcement, including the LCO Police Department and if there was more effort early on, he may have been found. She admits now there is little chance he will be found alive, but just wants closure.
On the phone during that meeting, Sawyer County Sheriff Doug Mrotek told Amanda and the TGB that the search is now a joint effort mainly orchestrated by Sheriff Wallace of Rusk County since the truck was found in that county. The initial disappearance was reported on the LCO Reservation so it’s been an investigation led by their department. Mrotek noted that if Aaron is located where the truck was found, then it would fall under Rusk County jurisdiction.
LCO Sergeant Dominic Ciatti told LCO News that right from the beginning of Aaron’s disappearance, the LCO PD has been following up every lead and doing multiple interviews. He said it may have seemed to Amanda that we weren’t acting quickly, but it just took some time to gather up information from the interviews, last known contacts and his phone being pinged.
Rusk County was able to ping his phone and the last known time and location was on Sunday, Oct. 11, and, according to Ciatti, they searched that area in the Blue Hills with multiple air grid searches with a state patrol plane near and found nothing. In October, the truck may have been difficult to find due to leaves still on the trees. Ciatti said the plane searches covered a large area from the LCO Reservation down to Bruce, WI.
Amanda told Sheriff Mrotek that she wanted approval from law enforcement to conduct more volunteer searches. She said there is a group out of Milwaukee that specializes in these searches, Wings of Hope, that has contacted her and is willing to search the area as well as the local groups. Mrotek said the only concern law enforcement has with this is that if there is any potential wrongdoing or foul play in Aaron’s disappearance, they don’t want evidence to be contaminated.
“A large volunteer search could make it messy,” Mrotek noted. “The authority for any volunteer searches would fall under Sheriff Wallace, but it should be a collaboration between both parties.”
Amanda said that Aaron called her at work on the evening of Oct. 10 and they had got into an argument about bills. Aaron told her he was going to stay at some friends and the following day, those friends dropped him off at Six Mile to pick up his truck that was left on the side of the road with a brake line issue. They were the last ones to see Aaron or the truck at about 6 pm. Although the truck had a brake line issue, it was still drivable.
Amanda explained that Aaron has been struggling with addiction and working really hard at staying sober since he was released from prison in December of 2019. She said he’s been working long hours on Potter’s Farm in Exeland and the stress of that and bills and dealing with his addiction has caused him to suffer from depression lately.
“It’s not anything he has been to the doctor for or diagnosed with, but I could tell when talking to him that he was different lately and just angry and depressed,” Amanda noted.
Amanda said Aaron was an excellent stepfather to her children and they are missing him. She said she tells the children not go give up and that he will be home again soon.
"Aaron was very dedicated and loved to spend his free time with the kids and family. My sister and brother accepted Aaron as a brother and we all miss him dearly and truly just want him to come home safe," Amanda added.