MYSTERY continues to surround the disappearance of Michaela Nelson, a specialist with the Ohio Army National Guard who vanished without a trace a month ago shortly after the death of her mother.
The 26-year-old, from Xenia, Ohio, was first reported missing by the National Guard on October 26.
Nelson had recently finished her Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at South Carolina's Fort Jackson on October 2 but failed to return to her unit in Dayton, Ohio, military officials said.
She last spoke to her family on the same day the National Guard reported her missing, exchanging text messages with her grandmother. It's unclear when she last spoke to her family over the phone.
Her father, Lance Nelson, filed a missing person report with the Columbus Police Department and has since also hired a private investigator, James Terry, to track her down.
Lance Nelson believes his daughter is still alive and maybe in hiding, though he's unsure where.
The worried father also told local media that he believes his daughter is using a phone, though not one attached to the number she used prior to her disappearance.
Terry told Fox this week that Nelson is "using a phone, some sort of phone. She just doesn't have her number on."
According to the private investigator, Nelson's known phone number goes straight through to voicemail, however, her Facetime still rings.
“We just have to believe she’s okay. She’s just taking time away from us or have some sort of new life,” Lance Nelson said, adding she could be anywhere in the country right now but was likely driving her dark gray 2016 Dodge Charger SXT.
Lance also added that his daughter was dealing with "a lot of grief" around the time of her disappearance.
Both Lance and Terry have theorized that Nelson may have decided to go AWOL from active duty following the death of her mother, Jacquelyn.
Jacquelyn Jean Miller Nelson passed away aged 59 from breast cancer on September 16. She was survived by her husband and their five children, of whom Michaela is the eldest.
Adding to her "grief", within the last year, Nelson also went through a divorce with her high school sweetheart, Cole Swigert, following a brief marriage, Lance told Dayton 24/7.
“You go through a divorce there’s a lot of grief, that was a year ago. Losing her mother a few months ago to breast cancer and then getting evicted from an apartment," he said.
Lance said he last saw his daughter at Jacquelyn's funeral in September. The last time he heard from her was through a text message on October 24.
“People are in tears, thousands of people are praying that we can find her,” Lance said.
"Michaela we want you to come home we love you. We want to help you in any way we can. Whether it's financial, emotional, grieving, and just to be together as a family again, is really starting to hurt a lot of us.”
Nelson, a former college athlete who had 18,000 followers on TikTok, had been hanging out with a new group of friends in recent months, her cousin Elise Miller said.
In the group were a number of professional athletes who Miller said she recognized from their ties to Indiana, where she lives.
Terry claimed Nelson’s new interests and the recent death of her mom could have led to a change in her priorities and she may be trying to avoid being punished for not returning to her unit.
In August, Nelson posted a video to her TikTok she said was taken at the NBA Finals a month earlier.
A week later, she posted again, addressing concerns that she'd failed out of officer candidate school.
Terry theorized that Nelson may be hiding to avoid the repercussions a service member faces if they fail to report for duty, including dishonorable discharge which is punishable with jail time.
However, a spokesperson for the Ohio Army National Guard refused to be drawn into speculation about the punishments Nelson may face if found, insisting her health and safety are their utmost "priority" at this time.
"Any discussion of discipline or administrative action is not a priority," the National Guard wrote in a post on Facebook.
"Our hope is she’s found safe as soon as possible. We will continue to be available to provide any assistance needed to her family and law enforcement."
Nelson first enlisted in the National Guard in September 2020.
According to Fox News, she was seen between October 6 and 15 while driving her Dodge Charger SXT, which carries the license plate number JLL4284.
License plate readers in Columbus, Ohio, showed that she was driving near an apartment where she had been living at the time.
However, by the time she was reported missing, Nelson's car was nowhere to be found in the area by police.
SOCIAL MEDIA INACTIVE
Prior to her disappearance, Nelson would frequently post to her Instagram page and upload videos to her TikTok feed, sharing an inside glance at her life inside the National Guard.
Her last Instagram post was uploaded on August 28, showing her dressed in army fatigues in Columbia, South Carolina, during her training.
The caption of the image, shared to her more than 5,000 followers, was a quote that read: "'be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.'"
Nelson's last TikTok post, meanwhile, came on September 5 showing her working out on a squat rack.
Both posts have since been inundated with messages from well-wishers hoping for her safe return.
"Michaela, please reach out if you're okay!!!" one person wrote on TikTok. "Anybody reading this, can you identify where she is in this video?? Have you seen her in October?"
Nelson, who also went by Kayla Kay and Michaela Kay on social media, had a website where she shared details about her personal and professional life, including her relationship, fitness journey, and mental health.
She was accepting new clients for her eight-week personal training program, FASTer Way to Fat Loss, before she disappeared.
Nelson reportedly had an ex who was the subject of a restraining order but her father told Fox that the document was no longer in effect.
"I think it faded," Lance said.
It was unclear if the restraining order was against Nelson's ex-husband. Civil protection orders (CPOs) in Ohio last up to five years and can be renewed.
For the last month, Nelson's sister Ariana Frueh has posted to Facebook asking for help in locating her older sister.
"Begging for your prayers…. We just want her to be safe!" she wrote on November 2.
The following week, she posted another image of Nelson and said: "No big update…long story short we are still on the lookout for Michaela."
Nelson had run track at Cedarville University and had been a four-year letter winner at Xenia Christian High School in southwestern Ohio.
Lance, who has been taking care of Nelson's dog since she vanished, said the holiday season "will be rough" without her.
Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to call the Columbus Police Department at 614-645-4545.
Terry has also urged anyone who has information about Nelson's whereabouts but is reluctant to call police to call Gulf Coast Investigation at 813-993-2242.
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