When Curtis Miller’s best friend invited him to go down to the Buffalo National River in Arkansas to attend a family reunion for his friend’s girlfriend, Miller jumped at the opportunity.
“He was all excited,” said Miller’s mother, Diana Miller of Independence. “It was his first vacation and he was going to spend it with his best friend.”
But the week turned tragic Thursday when the three went swimming. Just the day before, the river was only 5 feet deep and they could touch the bottom. But downpours from the remnants of Tropical Depression Bill caused the river to rise, and it was running fast.
“Almost immediately after they got into the water they all three were in trouble,” Diana Miller said, repeating what others told her.
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His friends nearly drowned before escaping. But the fast current swept Miller away.
“Curtis bobbed up and down six times before he went under for the final time,” Diana Miller said. “They didn’t realize the water was dangerous. And then it was too late.”
Diana Miller and several family members drove down Friday but returned before her son was found four days after vanishing.
Search crews found his body Monday about two miles downstream from Grinder’s Ferry, where Miller last was seen swimming. He was 22.
Born in Phoenix, Miller lived most of his life in Independence. He attended William Chrisman High School, but he dropped out when he was a sophomore.
“He didn’t get along with school,” Diana Miller said. “He didn’t like doing homework and he didn’t like doing assignments.”
She recalled that the school would call her at work “all the time” saying he wasn’t doing his work.
“He was practically an adult — what could I do?” she said. “I couldn’t make him do his assignments. Finally he said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to go anymore.’ So I didn’t make him.”
Wanting a diploma, however, Curtis Miller took the GED test and passed it the first time. He was 17 at the time.
Curtis Miller worked at a Hy-Vee grocery store for four years, three of which were in the meat department.
“He just loved the job,” Diana Miller said. “There was just something that fell into him and he just loved it.”
When he couldn’t become a full-time employee, he started looking for another job and was hired by Sprouts Farmers Market in Liberty, which opened earlier this year.
“At first he was just the head meat cutter,” Diana Miller said. “When they saw what he could do, they made him the assistant manager and then almost immediately after that they made him a manager.”
Miller, who lived with his mother, liked working out at the gym as well as hanging out with friends and going to movies. He also was into video games, including World of Warcraft and Diablo III online.
In addition to his mother, he is survived by three brothers — Joshua Moore, 37, of Independence, Andrew Miller, 30, of Independence and Charles Miller, 28, of Excelsior Springs — as well as several nieces and a nephew.
Diana Miller said she texted her son Thursday morning, saying she missed him.
She said he responded: “YOU DO NOT. Just kidding. I miss you too.”
“It’s just unreal that this has happened,” she said. “… He had everything going for him.”
A online YouCaring fundraising page has been established to help cover memorial costs at www.youcaring.com/dyana-miller-375364.