Michael Browning’s family spent last week at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area fishing, boating and swimming.
They were having so much fun that Browning extended the family vacation.
But the family outing turned tragic Thursday night when 11-year-old Joshua Murphy turned up missing.
Browning was grilling pork for dinner on a rented houseboat when he discovered his son was nowhere to be found. Browning had last seen the boy on an inflatable raft floating near the beached houseboat. Browning’s 19-year-old stepson had been watching Murphy. The family was staying on a Seven Crown Resorts houseboat near Echo Bay.
"I told him Joshua was on the raft," Browning said Sunday. When I looked over to the raft, the raft was there, but Joshua wasn’t."
Browning began calling to his son to no avail. He walked to the back of the boat where he found the boy floating facedown in the water.
Browning immediately pulled him out of the water and began CPR. Browning said his son was not breathing but had a faint pulse.
The family called 911. Family members took turns performing CPR on Murphy.
Browning said no more than five minutes had passed between the time his son was seen by a family member and the time he was found in the water.
Browning fought back tears Sunday while he talked about how the vacation was meant to be special for Joshua, who had recently come to Las Vegas from Montana to stay with him.
"We wanted to do something different and special, really get to spend time with him," Browning said. "I guess it was the wrong choice."
Officials with the Lake Mead National Park Service said it took roughly two hours for the boat to be found. Dispatchers were called about 8:45 p.m.
Browning said he could see a helicopter flying above, but apparently, the pilot couldn’t see the boat.
"They kept going too far north," Browning said. "I kept yelling at the guy on the phone to tell them to turn around and come back."
The boy was eventually airlifted to University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
Park service officials said Joshua died from carbon monoxide asphyxiation, with drowning being a contributing factor. The Clark County coroner’s office ruled the death an accident, according to the park service.
Browning is still trying to understand how things happened. He suspects his son inhaled carbon monoxide from the boat’s generator, which is near a railing that leads into the boat.
"It’s not really an accident that should have happened," Browning said. "You slip and fall and break your head open, that’s an accident that just happens. Something like carbon monoxide poisoning when you’re outside, on a raft, in the water, just doesn’t make sense."
Browning said an official from the coroner’s office told him carbon monoxide can quickly cause death, especially in children. He also said the coroner didn’t find any signs of cuts, abrasions or bruises, which would have indicated that his son slipped while trying to get on the boat.
Browning believes that houseboats should be equipped with spotlights or flare guns to help draw the attention of emergency responders.
Browning said his son’s funeral will be in Anaconda, Mont., where Joshua lived with his mother.
Browning described his son as full of love. What he’ll remember most are the times he and his son shared while camping and fishing. He added that his son was just "coming into his own" as an athlete.
"He seemed to be a gift from God to our family," he said. "For some reason, that gift has been taken away."
Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.