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20 years later: Family thankful for closure after Lake Mead drowning victim ID’d

Updated August 26, 2022 - 9:13 am

Family members found closure this week two decades after a single dad went missing and was presumed dead while boating on Lake Mead.

Thomas Erndt’s sister thanked officials on Thursday for identifying her brother as the person whose remains were found in May.

Julie Erndt, who lives in Kentucky, said her brother went missing after a family and friends boating trip in 2002.

She said her brother was on a boat with his two children, Tina and Tom, and some friends when he jumped in the water “like he always did.” Julie Erndt said her brother at times would jump from the boat, then would get back into the boat and watch the kids swim.

‘Single dad who worked very hard’

“They weren’t really that far from shore but something must’ve happened. We don’t really know and he ended up missing,” Julie Erndt said in a text.

Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said Thomas Erndt, 42, of Las Vegas, was presumed dead after drowning at Lake Mead on Aug. 2, 2002.

“Tom was a single dad who worked very hard as an airplane mechanic,” Julie Erndt said. “He loved his kids dearly and was also lending a helping hand to others.”

Thomas Erndt’s skeletal remains were found in the Callville Bay area on the afternoon of May 7. His official cause and manner of death were still pending as of Thursday evening.

“We appreciate all the effort that the county and the park recreation center has done for our family with keeping the case open,” Julie Erndt said.

Low waters levels reveal more of lake’s secrets

The discovery of Thomas Erndt’s remains marked the second of five times since May that human remains have been found at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Those discoveries have come as Lake Mead’s water levels have receded to extremely low levels this year. Between January and the end of May, the lake’s elevation dropped about 20 feet from 1,067.09 feet to 1,047.69 feet, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

On May 1, the body of a man police said died of a gunshot wound was found in a barrel in the area of Hemenway Harbor. Based on the clothing and shoes found in the barrel, it is believed that the body was dumped in the 1970s or 1980s.

Last week, police said a gun was found in the area where the the body in the barrel was found.

“Although it is not uncommon for firearms to be found at the lake, it is too early to determine whether it (the gun) is connected to the current investigation,” the Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement last week.

Kulin said in a statement Wednesday that the coroner’s office is working to determine whether partial human remains found on Aug. 6 and July 25 were from the same person or two different people. Those remains were found in the Boulder Beach area.

“The process for identifying the remains discovered at the lake includes examinations to determine the gender and approximate age, height and weight of each decedent; the collection of DNA samples, the quality of which can be greatly affected by time and environmental conditions; and comparing findings to information about people who have been reported missing over the years,” Kulin said.

Most recently, partial human skeletal remains were found in the Boulder Beach area.

“The remains were found by a park visitor in the water. No additional information about these remains is available at this time,” Kulin said Wednesday.

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.

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