Family, friends remember man who drowned in Douglas Lake

SEVIERVILLE (WATE) – Family and friends mourned the loss of a young man who drowned in Douglas Lake Tuesday night. Crews recovered the body of Daniel Payne Mills, 20. Investigators say a group of young adults were trying to swim across the lake when Mills had trouble and went under.

“I just can’t believe it,” said his mom Sonya Smithee.

The news was surreal for Smithee. She looked through photos of her oldest son who she called Payne. She purposefully met WATE 6 On Your Side at the Little Pigeon River, a place Mills always went fishing. .

“It’s just hard to be here ’cause he’s not here,” she said.

Previous story: Investigators identify Douglas Lake drowning victim

It was hard for her to imagine that he’s gone. She still doesn’t understand her son’s drowning. She said Mills couldn’t swim well.

“He’s not one to get in the water if he can’t see the bottom or if it goes over his head,” she said.

Friends and family gathered at the Little Pigeon River.

She wanted people to remember him as someone who was kind and well loved by many. That was clear by the number of friends coming to show support.

“If the people know him, they are going to know the crazy, loud, obnoxious Payne. Please remember him like that,” said Smithee.

Mills’s girlfriend, Kady Maples, knew him well. She met him almost 10 years ago.

“He was just all all around good person. He would give you the shirt off of his back for anybody and everybody. It didn’t matter if you loved him or hated him.” said Maples.

It was that selfless and positive attitude all of his friends could agree on. Most of them will remember him for his smile.

“I don’t think I have ever seen him not smile before,” said one friend.

Smithee encouraged parents to take their child to swimming lessons. She did not do that for Mills. She also hopes ropes at the other side of the lake are taken down. That is what the group was swimming to. She does not want this to happen to another person’s child.

Mills graduated from Sevier County High School. He had dreams of joining the United States Marine Corps.

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