The Boy Scouts of Troop 161 formed lines, and in each of their hands, they clutched a small red stone. Their faces were reflective and grieved, and when they walked, they did so silently, placing those rocks around the symbolic ribbon outside the troop’s meeting place at the Robert E. Reid, Sr. Recreation Center in Shoreham, all to honor one of their member who was killed last year.
Since the death of Andrew McMorris, a fellow in their troop who was killed by a drunk driver in the fall of last year, the community has rallied in support of the family after their loss. On that June 5 evening the red stones were inlaid with phrases written by the community. Some were stenciled with “fly high Andrew” while others read “fly high on an eagle.”
The final part of the Scout law says the young men should remain “reverent,” and as they paid homage to Andrew, the Scouts in his troop remained solemn throughout the entire ceremony.
Alisa McMorris, Andrew’s mother, was struck by how much the community and Boy Scout troop came out to support her family.
“A part of me died that day, and I didn’t think that I could stand again,” she said. “When the boys and the troop surrounded us, and the community surrounded us, we realized we had a support that would go to any lengths to help us take the next step forward.”
John McMorris, an assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 161 and father of Andrew, could barely hold back tears as he spoke to the crowd of gathered town officials and friends of the troop.
“It’s a beautiful place to do it where we hold our meetings every week,” he said. “Andrew loved Scouting, he loved his Scouting brothers.”
The new garden in honor of Andrew is located just outside the windows of the Shoreham community center, facing toward the playground. Members of the troop have been working on the project for months. In May, the troop spent hours upon hours on one of the hottest days in spring to help dig the ground for the project.
Since October the troop had spent months planning and then building the garden, starting with the red dogwood tree, which was donated by local Girl Scout Service Unit 69. Alisa McMorris is a Girl Scout troop leader, and her daughter, Arianna, is a member.
“We thought, what a beautiful way to merge the two Scout worlds is to put a garden around that tree,” she said.
In all, it has been a complete Scout effort. Joseph Pozgay, 16, who was named an Eagle Scout earlier this month, made it his Eagle Scout project to lay the bricks in front of the new garden. The idea came to him from a friend, Ryan Ledda, who used his Eagle Scout project to construct a memorial statue for Thomas Cutinella, who died in 2014. He said he remembered Andrew, the whole troop did, as a young man with great ambitions.
“I feel honored — I feel like I’ve achieved something,” Pozgay said.
Ken Wrigley, an assistant Scoutmaster and owner of Wading River-based Emerald Landscaping, helped to design the new garden. He said some of his distributors donated the plantings seen placed around the rock ribbon and red dogwood tree.
So much had been donated to the project that there were thousands of dollars left over. In the next Brookhaven town board meeting, officials voted to take a donation of $6,839 from the troop and use the funds to construct a pergola at the town-owned community center, near the troop-built garden.
“It’s commendable for Brookhaven that the Scouts have taken the center under their wing,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “The fact that so much money was left over shows just how generous people have been with donations.”
Throughout the ceremony, Alisa McMorris kept raising her eyes to the sky. Above, the clouds had rolled in an overcast, threatening rain throughout the evening, but Alisa was watching and listening for something. That’s when they heard it, a plane overhead, likely a passenger jet.
To the McMorris family, it was a sign. Andrew had wanted to be a pilot, and the Shoreham-Wading River middle school student had flown in local youth pilot programs.
“It’s helping healing occur — it’s helping us move forward,” Alisa said.