ASHLAND -- The 20-year-old woman walked out of the Warehouse 24-Hour Gym around midnight, her workout complete.
She turned to the right and headed to her car in the well-lit parking lot. There were no other vehicles in the lot on that side of the building, constructed and opened in 2018.
But she was reportedly not alone on the cool, clear spring night April 24.
The woman heard a twig snap. She looked and saw a creature, seven or eight feet tall and covered in gray fur, racing back into the woods about 30 yards away.
It was far too large, likely several hundred pounds, and moved too quickly to be a man, she believed. Shaken and in tears, she called her parents from a nearby restaurant, asking them to come and drive her home.
She had likely encountered a sasquatch, according to nationally acclaimed Big Foot investigator Matthew Moneymaker, who has devoted much of his life to the pursuit of the mysterious creature, including the national cable TV show, "Finding Bigfoot."
Moneymaker, a California resident who founded the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization in 1995, spoke to the woman and to her father before posting Report #69065 on his website. There were plans to visit her in person to gain more information and research the location of the sighting, outside the gym at 1151 Commerce Parkway on the city's east side.
Unfortunately, Moneymaker said, some of the woman's friends and co-workers learned of her experience through the website and made light of her claim.
She and her father asked her name be removed from the website report, a request with which Moneymaker complied. She isn't interested in further participation.
"She isn't backing off what she claimed she saw. She stands by what she saw and so do her parents," he said. "She is a young woman and doesn't want people who may be ignorant making fun of her. I believe her and I do think it happened.
"This is not a hoax report."
Moneymaker, who lived in Ohio for four years in the early 1990s while earning a law degree from the University of Akron, said the woman's stories raised far more green flags than red ones.
"It was those green flags that led me to believe there is something to this," he said. "Her father is the one who filed the report on the website. He has a lot of trust and faith in his daughter and what she said she saw that night. He knows she saw something that scared her."
According to the report Moneymaker authored, the Ashland woman was certain the creature she saw was not any other kind of animal or a human being in a costume.
"It ran back into the woods at an angle to right and was quickly obscured from her view by the corner of the gym building. She only saw a side view as it ran off with large arms swinging. She said she most likely would not have noticed it at all, but for the noise of the twig breaking, which she assumed was caused by the creature standing on wood debris," Moneymaker wrote.
"The way it bolted off when it fled is what frightened her the most. It was very fast."
The girl's father went to the site the next morning and found "lots of deer tracks in exposed patches of ground around that parcel of woods," a quarry often pursued by sasquatch, according to Moneymaker.
Moneymaker, who is familiar with the area, used maps available on the internet to examine the surrounding area, resulting in more green flags.
"Whichever way that deer would use to access that island of woods behind the Warehouse Gym is likely the same pathway the sasquatch would have used," Moneymaker said.
"If a deer or sasquatch came to those woods from the north, there is only 100 yards or so of exposed field to cross (in the dark) before reaching a large swampy area connected to the Jerome Fork of the Mohican River.
"So the location is more plausible for a sasquatch than it appears at first in aerial photos. The key element is the presence of deer. That shows there is both a pathway and a reason for a sasquatch to approach the edge of development late at night," Moneymaker said.
He said the recent economic development on the eastern edge of the Ashland Community has likely encroached on areas that sasquatch have frequented -- previously unseen.
In his website report, the Bigfoot guru suggested those interested check the swampy zone directly north of the sighting.
"A specific place to look for tracks would be where the swampy zone and Jerome Fork passes underneath the I-71 freeway. Follow the deer paths in the area."
Within a couple of days, he said, a woman -- who had seen his web report -- was traveling through the area on I-71. He said she stopped and took photos and found what looked like excellent places on the Jerome Fork where it flows under the highway that would be prime spots for a sasquatch to take refuge.
Moneymaker assigned the Ashland sighting a "Class A" rating, the highest on his three-tiered scale. According to his website, "the difference between the classifications relates to the potential for misinterpretation of what was observed or heard. A given witness might be very credible, but could have honestly misinterpreted something that was seen, found, or heard. Thus, for the most part, the circumstances of the incident determine the potential for misinterpretation, and therefore the classification of the report."
He said Class A reports "involve clear sightings in circumstances where misinterpretation or misidentification of other animals can be ruled out with greater confidence."
"In Ashland, there are only three possibilities. Either the witness is lying, which I am sure she is not. Or she saw someone in a Bigfoot costume, which makes no sense. Ordinarily in a hoax, the person reporting the sighting or taking the photos is in on the scam.
"Or, she saw a real Bigfoot, which I believe is the case here. After awhile of doing these kinds of investigations, you get pretty good at knowing when someone is telling the truth," Moneymaker said.
He said there have been thousands of credible sasquatch sightings over the years, including many in the Mohican River area, adding more credibility to the Ashland woman's report.
"My hypothesis is they follow water -- creeks, streams, rivers, ridgelines and abandoned railroad beds, as well as powerline routes. Those are the same pathways followed by deer, which sasquatch are seeking," he said.
According to his website, this marks the sixth sasquatch sighting in Ashland County, dating back to 1943 when a man recalled being picked up by a Bigfoot as a child.
More recently, in 2015, residents at a campground near Loudonville reported seeing a tall figure, perhaps eight feet tall, in the shadows, before it bolted away.
OHIO A HOTBED
Moneymaker said Ohio has become a hotbed for sasquatch sightings. It's where he had his own face-to-face sighting in a wildlife area in eastern Ohio in the 1990s.
His website lists 309 Ohio sightings, though he said many more go unreported. There have been four in Richland County and one in Knox County, according to the website.
Guernsey County, home to the wooded Salt Fork State Park, leads with 14 reported sightings, including 10 in the past two decades.
The geography and topography of the state provide a good habitat for Bigfoot, as does the plentiful supply of deer found in Ohio.
He recognizes there are many skeptics who question the existence of these so-called "wood apes" and question why more evidence has not been found.
"I know it's hard to accept they are real until you have your own face-to-face encounter," Moneymaker said. "People keep trying to fit them into the mold of another species.
"We are thinking of them as humans, like they would have a home address. They continue to move around, often at night, when deer are more likely to be active. They are not often going to be walking around in daytime in full view.
"Everything quiets down at night, between 10 p.m. and sunrise. That's the most likely time for a sasquatch sighting," he said.
If you have a close encounter with a sasquatch, feel free to visit the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website and complete a report.