Lake Mead body identified: 'They found my dad'

A family finds closure after 20 years
DNA shows remains belong to Thomas Erndt
Thomas was only 42
Tom Erndt was 10 years old when he lost his father
A boating trip that went bad
The family thought Thomas was joking about drowning
The authorities couldn't find Thomas' body
Missing for 20 years
Thomas Erndt's children gave DNA samples
At least 3 sets of human remains found since May
Ongoing investigations
Not an easy task
Bodies could be from the 70s or 80s
Confirmation of homicide
Declining water levels showed what was really in Lake Mead
A body in a barrel always means someone else was involved
Homicide by gunshot
DNA extracts are needed
The victim's identity is key
The second victim was between 23 and 37 years old
No obvious signs of foul play
More DNA samples are needed
Coroner's office has only begun investigation into 3rd set of remains
Partial remains are harder to work with
How did the bodies end up in the lake?
Third body could have been a
The work of the mafia?
Drowning is plausible for the second and third bodies
A realistic possibility
Bodies are often never recovered
More to come
Surely more bodies were dumped in Lake Mead
A family finds closure after 20 years

Over the past several months, as Lake Mead has receded, Nevada residents have been disturbed by the discovery of human remains in the popular lake. However, for one family, these grisly discoveries have brought closure more than twenty years after their beloved father went missing.

DNA shows remains belong to Thomas Erndt

According to a news release by the Clark County Office of Communications & Strategy, the human remains found on May 7 in the Callville Bay area have been identified through DNA analysis as Thomas Erndt (pictured).

Photo: Instagram@taxitom_is300

Thomas was only 42

Thomas Erndt, aged 42 at the time of his disappearance on August 2, 2002, drowned after jumping into the Colorado River Reservoir while on a boat trip.

 

Tom Erndt was 10 years old when he lost his father

SFGATE newspaper spoke to the identified man's son, Tom Erndt (pictured here with his dad), who was only ten years old when his father went missing.

Photo: Instagram@taxitom_is300

A boating trip that went bad

Tom Erndt explained that in 2002 he went on a family boat trip on the Colorado River reservoir at night. His father, Thomas Erndt, was known for goofing around and jumped into the water; however, he then began to struggle.

The family thought Thomas was joking about drowning

Tom Erndt told KSNV he thought his dad was playing a joke on the family, saying, "At first it was like, 'Oh, I'm drowning hahaha,' kind of thing, right?"

"I need help!"

Sadly, it quickly became clear that young Tom's father was indeed in real trouble: "And it turned into screaming and yelling, and 'I need help!'"

The authorities couldn't find Thomas' body

However, per SFGATE, the Erndt family had no coverage on their cell phone, and by the time they were able to contact authorities, no trace of their beloved father could be found.

Missing for 20 years

Thomas Erndt's body had been missing for twenty years, and the family had given up hope of ever finding the remains. However, several weeks ago, Tom Erndt shared a post on Instagram about being contacted by the Clark County coroner's office.

Thomas Erndt's children gave DNA samples

After discovering the remains in May, investigators looked into reports of deaths near the lake where the body was never recovered. Both Tom and his sister were asked to give a DNA sample, and on August 24, 2022, the coroner's office informed them that it was a match.

Photo: Instagram@taxitom_is300

"They found my dad"

Tom shared the news on his Instagram account, writing, "They found my dad....I am still in awe and don't know how to feel. It's all not real to me, and I need to have it sink in. I am grateful for the news, and it's still not my closure, but it will come, and I am glad he is at peace. Dad I love you with all my heart, and you will always be by my side."

Photo: Instagram@taxitom_is300

At least 3 sets of human remains found since May

The remains of Thomas Erndt are among at least three sets of human remains that have been discovered since the water levels began to plummet in Lake Mead this spring.

Ongoing investigations

The Clark County coroner continues to investigate the origins of the other bodies, including a body found in a corroding barrel.

Not an easy task

The investigators working to identify the sets of human remains found in Lake Mead certainly don't have an easy task.

Bodies could be from the 70s or 80s

The bodies most likely have been hidden deep under the water for decades, leaving them in advanced stages of decomposition, which makes extracting DNA very difficult. Pictured: Lake Mead in 1983

Confirmation of homicide

Nonetheless, CNN reports that officials have recently obtained new details about the bodies, which include the confirmation of homicide for the body found with a gunshot wound.

 

Declining water levels showed what was really in Lake Mead

The first set of remains was found in a barrel that was revealed by the declining water levels due to the severe drought affecting Lake Mead in Nevada.

A body in a barrel always means someone else was involved

Naturally, they treated the case as a homicide because, as Lt. Jason Johansson of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police homicide unit told CNN, "Anytime you have a body in a barrel, clearly there was somebody else involved."

Photo: Fox5News

Homicide by gunshot

Since then, CNN reports that "Clark County Coroner Melanie Rouse has preliminarily ruled the cause and manner of death was homicide by gunshot."

DNA extracts are needed

The Clark County Coroner's office will also send off specimens from the remains in an attempt to extract DNA in the hopes of identifying the victim.

The victim's identity is key

Not knowing the victim's identity makes investigating the crime next to impossible, and with so many years gone by (around four decades), witnesses and suspects are hard to come by.

The second victim was between 23 and 37 years old

CNN reported that in regards to the second set of human remains found at the lake, Ms. Rouse has preliminarily determined that the individual was between 23 and 37 years old.

No obvious signs of foul play

The manner of death remains unclear, and the coroner's office has yet to determine the cause; however, there are no obvious signs of foul play.

More DNA samples are needed

As in the first case of human remains, the coroner's office is also sending off samples in the hopes of extracting DNA.

Coroner's office has only begun investigation into 3rd set of remains

The most recent human remains were discovered in Lake Mead at the end of July, and the coroner's office has only begun its preliminary investigation.

Partial remains are harder to work with

Ms. Rouse of the coroner's office told CNN that these are only partial remains, so there is less to work with.

How did the bodies end up in the lake?

A cause and manner of death have yet to be determined, and the remains are currently undergoing testing to unveil more information.

Third body could have been a "natural" death

Lt. Johansson told CNN that the police are not investigating the most recent remains discovered as there are no signs of "suspicious circumstances of death."

The work of the mafia?

Many have speculated that the remains found in Lake Mead may be related to mobsters, and in the case of the body found in the barrel, police are not ruling the theory out.

Drowning is plausible for the second and third bodies

However, as for the other two sets of human remains, there is a good chance the individuals may have simply drowned when water levels were much higher many years ago.

A realistic possibility

CNN reported that a National Parks Service spokesperson told the media outlet that drowning is a realistic possibility.

Bodies are often never recovered

Since recovery divers can only dive so deep, often drowning victims' bodies are never recovered.

More to come

As the water levels drop at Lake Mead, police are confident more bodies will be discovered.

Surely more bodies were dumped in Lake Mead

"The lake has drained dramatically over the last 15 years...It's likely that we will find additional bodies that have been dumped in Lake Mead" as the water level drops further," Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Homicide Lt. Ray Spencer told the media in May.

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