On Halloween, William “Billy” Morris took his 3-year-old son, August, on an afternoon jet ski ride along the Alafia River.
Its red-brown water snakes for 25 miles through Florida’s Hillsborough County and eventually dumps into Tampa Bay. In it and the surrounding state park live wildlife native to swampy Florida – birds, bass, alligators.
For hours, the father and son were gone.
But as time passed, Morris’ wife Tina began to worry, local authorities said. Using FaceTime, she called her husband’s cellphone, where her rings were met by a welcome voice.
Not her husband’s – but August.
And the toddler was crying.
Earlier in the day, Morris, 38, had called his wife to say they had banked the jet ski on an island in the middle of the Alafia and would be home soon, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
But somehow, between then and the FaceTime call, the father had disappeared, leaving the crying toddler stranded on the island, alone.
A passerby spotted the boy and stayed with him until deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrived. When they searched the area, authorities found the jet ski beached on the island’s south side and a adult life jacket draped across the water craft. Inside was Morris’ wallet.
But they couldn’t find Morris.
Authorities searched that night and resumed Tuesday morning, dispatching aviation, marine and dive units to scour the area. Private boaters even joined.
Meanwhile, Morris’ family waited.
“I just don’t understand the whole scenario,” Morris’ mother, Cindy, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s not like him to leave everything.”
Morris was a trucker that hauled goods for Amazon, his mother told the Times, which meant the man was often on-call. He always kept his phone nearby.
Of her grandson, “Augie,” who turns 4 in January, Cindy Morris told the Times: “He’s a smart little cookie.”
For several hours Tuesday morning, authorities searched for Morris. At 11:30 a.m., in a tangle of mangroves along the river’s south shore, they finally found a body.
The Sheriff’s Office has tentatively identified the man as Morris, but the county medical examiner’s office will make an official determination and rule on cause of death. As of Tuesday afternoon, authorities did not suspect foul play.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t the outcome we desired,” Hillsborough Sheriff’s Col. Chad Chronister told the Times, “but at this point at least the family can get some closure about what we believe is a tragic accident.”