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Boy Scout Troop 161

Troop, town and community all had a hand in the new memorial

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.

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Boy Scouts of America Troop 161 assist in creating the new memorial garden in honor of Andrew McMorris. Photo by Jane Sherman

The field in front of the Robert S. Reid Recreation Center in Shoreham was marked by red, the red shirts of Boys Scouts’ uniforms and red ribbons, which residents know has become a symbol for remembrance and an icon for bringing the community together.

Boy Scouts of America Troop 161 is continuing their honoring of Andrew McMorris, a young troop member who was killed by a drunk driver in October of last year, by creating a new garden in front of the community center where they have hosted their meetings for years.

Red dogwood tree planted in honor of McMorris. Photo by Jane Sherman

In October, after the horrific event, the Girl Scouts of America donated a red dogwood tree to the McMorris family, which troop 161 planted in front of the center, adorning it with tiny ribbons. In an effort to remember young Andrew, the troop promised it would build a memorial garden around that tree. 

Boy Scout Joseph Pozgay made it his Eagle Scout project to lay memorial bricks in front of the garden, while other troop members laid plantings in the ground, all of which were donated by the community. 

Jane Sherman, the committee chair of Troop 161, said they plan to host a dedication for the garden sometime in the near future.

The Boy Scouts Suffolk County Council is still fundraising to create a new Adirondack Cabin at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp. People can donate to Troop 161 at www.troop161shoreham.org/ and support Andrew McMorris Foundation at www.andrewmcmorrisfoundation.org/.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, center, with this year's honorees

The 2018 TBR News Media People of the Year in Brookhaven were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 24.

Publisher Leah Dunaief presented the awards to Linda Johnson, Gloria Rocchio, Brian Hoerger, Andrew Harris, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., Heather Lynch, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, Susan Delgado, Angeline Judex, Janet Godfrey, Gina Mingoia, Boy Scout Troop 161 and Boy Scout Troop 204 at the event.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Laffitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.

Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204 attend a wake for Andrew McMorris where they stood as honor guard. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Melissa Arnold

All across Long Island, as Boy Scout troops gather for regular meetings, they reaffirm their commitment to the organization’s oath and law. Time and again, they promise to be loyal, trustworthy and brave and to “help other people at all times.”

Whether it’s running fundraisers, washing cars, visiting seniors or fixing up neighborhood points of interest, the Boy Scouts in local troops are often the driving force behind Suffolk County community service efforts.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said they believe that all Scouts, boys and girls alike, stand as a positive example to our community, and that everyone should strive to join them in living a life of respect, leadership and helpfulness.

“The town always has a ‘wish list’ of projects we’d love to take on, but simply don’t have the funding for,” Bonner said. “The Scouts really complement the work that we do, but even beyond that, they make a tremendous impact in so many different areas of our community.”

Many of the organization’s service projects are dreamed up and implemented by the most senior Scouts, boys approaching their 18th birthday who are striving to obtain the highest rank: Eagle Scout.

Troop 204 uniform

In Miller Place’s Troop 204, anywhere from six to eight boys make Eagle Scout each year. The process is rigorous, and the Scouts run every aspect from initial planning and fundraising to completing the project and writing a final report. According to Scouting Magazine, less than 10 percent of all Boy Scouts go on to become Eagle Scouts.

“It’s great watching the boys come in as novices and grow and mature and become good citizens,” said Joe Argento, scoutmaster of Troop 204. “It’s special to see kids I’ve known since they were young go on to make Eagle.”

This year, the troop’s newest Eagle Scouts from Troop 204 protected wildlife at Cedar Beach with the installation of fishing line receptacles, made massive repairs to a large storage facility at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point and spruced up the Miller Place signs and Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven, among several other projects.

While the Boy Scouts are known for serving their neighbors, they are also fiercely loyal to one another. The strength of those ties was on display this fall when Andrew McMorris, a Scout from Troop 161 in Shoreham, was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver during a day hike in Manorville Oct. 1. Several other Scouts were injured in the episode as well. In the days after Andrew’s death, Scouts from across the region banded together to hang hundreds of red ribbons from Riverhead to Wading River and beyond. 

On the day of Andrew’s wake, they came out in force to stand vigil for their brother. Troop 204 served as an honor guard.

“No matter what kind of Scout you are, it’s all one big family,” said Ann Colletta, membership coordinator for the Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts. “Troop 161 is very dear to Troop 204, and we all wanted to show them that we have their backs. It could have been any of us.”

The Scouts would go on to raise more than $20,000 for a memorial fund in Andrew’s memory that went to support Troop 161. In addition, the troop is raising funds to build a 3,200-square-foot Adirondack cabin at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Wading River, which will be named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. 

Scoutmaster of Troop 161 Matthew Yakaboski said the troop is only just beginning to heal after the tragedy in October, but they still have a long way to go. 

“To have that life cut short like that is awful,” Yakaboski said. “We’re just trying to celebrate his life and do what we can.”

Along with the effort to build a cabin in Andrew’s honor, Troop 161’s scoutmaster said a number of their Scouts are planning several Eagle projects in the upcoming year, all of which will honor Andrew and the other Scouts injured on that day. One Scout is doing his Eagle project at the Robert S. Reid Community Center in Shoreham creating a paved brick patio and garden around a tree the troop originally planted in honor of Andrew. Yakaboski’s son, also named Matthew, is going to work on a project in conjunction with nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving at the Jones Beach Theater. He will be renovating the area around a flagpole to create a brick path in the shape of a ribbon with each brick engraved with the name of people who have been killed or injured during DWI incidents. 

Anker was quick to note that troop leaders and parents are also worthy of praise for the time, effort and support they contribute to the organization.

“We have to give the scoutmasters credit, too — they’re more than just leaders or supervisors. They’re true mentors and role models that challenge the Scouts to grow not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And when you have strong leadership in Scouts, it perpetuates strong leadership for the next generation.”

With additional reporting by Kyle Barr.

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Members of Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204 stand outside the wake for Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old scout from Troop 161 killed earlier this week by an allegedly drunk driver. Photo by Kyle Barr

From Riverhead to Miller Place, red ribbons hung on street signs, store facades, schoolyard fences and mail boxes. The North Shore community was draped in red, the same crimson color worn on the shirts and kerchiefs of Boy Scouts. The color now adorns a community in mourning.

As news spread that 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a Shoreham resident of Boy Scout of Troop 161 and student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30 while on a hiking outing with several members of his troop on David Terry Road in Manorville, the community quickly galvanized in support. Four others from the troop were injured as a result of the crash, according to Suffolk County police.

Red ribbons line the entrance to Shoreham-Wading River High School in honor of Andrew McMorris of Boy Scout Troop 161, who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

In the week since the news broke, hundreds of residents headed onto local community Facebook pages to share their grief and ask what assistance they could offer the family. Some offered to send food in their time of need. Others buckled down and started making ribbons and wristbands for residents to show their hearts went out to all those hurt by the tragedy.

Pamela Garee, an agent with Wading River real estate company Coldwell Banker M&D Good Life, who works closely with Troop 161, quickly got about 70 volunteers to create 700 red ribbons by Oct. 5. Each ribbon cost $10, with all proceeds going to support the troop, the Shoreham-Wading River school district’s Wildcat Helpers of the Arts and Music, and nonprofit advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Ribbons are still available at the Coldwell Banker office at the Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River.

“We’re really doing it to be supportive of the troop, the boys, the victims and their families,” Garee said. “The support from the community — it’s been wonderful.”

Garee said she expects to sell more than 1,000 ribbons by the end of the weekend Oct. 7.

Suffolk County has also taken up the task of honoring the Boy Scout, as County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) office announced Oct. 4 it would place ribbons at the entrances to 16 major county parks.

“It is with great sadness that we remember Andrew, but I am proud to honor this bright, dedicated young man with this small act of remembrance,” Bellone said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family now and forever in the wake of this immeasurable tragedy.”

The first of three wakes were held for Andrew Oct. 4. The sidewalks were lined with red ribbons, and a near-constant stream of friends, family and community members journeyed to the Branch Funeral Home of Miller Place to pay their respects. Members of Boy Scout Troop 204 of Miller Place stood at attention in front of the funeral home, serving as an honor guard paying respect to the fallen fellow scout.

Others in the community were decorating their own houses and storefronts with the ribbons. Shortly after David and Gloria Kurtinaitis, owners of Forte’s Florist in Wading River, got word of the tragedy they used their own material to decorate their shopping complex with the symbol.

Red ribbons adorn businesses, homes and other public areas in Shoreham to honor Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 161 who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s great when the community comes together, it’s just a hard way to do it,” David Kurtinaitis said.

The incident occurred Sept. 30 as the troop was taking a day hike through the Greenbelt Trail in Manorville. Thomas Murphy, 59, of Holbrook was driving a 2016 Mercedes southbound on David Terry Road at approximately 1:55 p.m. when his vehicle struck the scouts who were walking northbound on the shoulder of the roadway, according police.

McMorris was rushed to the hospital but died due to his injuries Oct. 1, police said. Along with McMorris four other boys were also hit by the driver. Denis Lane, 16, of Shoreham; Kaden Lynch, 15, of Calverton; and Matthew Yakaboski, 15, of Calverton, sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Thomas Lane, 15, of Shoreham, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital where he has continued to be treated for serious injuries as of Oct. 5.

Murphy was charged with driving while intoxicated, though Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini’s (D) office has left open the possibility of upgrading the charges. An attorney for Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The SWR school district has put a notice on its website saying support services were available to students and staff, and that parents or guardians could call the school should they wish their children to get grief support.

In a statement released to Newsday, the McMorris family shared Andrew’s love for acting, the Boy Scouts and aviation.

“Andrew wanted to fly before he could walk,” the statement read. “Airplanes, helicopters and rockets were the obsession of his life, and he achieved his first piloting goal this past summer during AeroCamp … Andrew was occasionally chided by parents, coaches and teachers for having his head in the clouds, but for Andrew, that only made sense.”

The support for the scout troop members and the McMorris family has even extended beyond the Shoreham community. A GoFundMe fundraising campaign for Troop 161 has exceeded $13,000 of a $15,000 goal as of Oct. 5, just five days after Andrew’s passing.

Andrew participated in AeroCamp, a youth flight educational program hosted by Mid Island Air Service. The organization released a statement highlighting Andrew’s love for aviation.

Red ribbons adorn businesses in Shoreham to honor Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 161 who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Andrew worked hard during camp to complete his Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badge and we were so proud of him,” the statement read. “We are saddened by this senseless loss and offer his family our deepest condolences.”

A Change.org petition titled “Name an AA 787 after Andrew McMorris,” which seeks to get American Airlines to name a jet after Andrew, has already reached well over 12,000 signatures. The petition’s creator, aviation photographer Hunter Lyons, is seeking response from the airline that could help get Andrew’s name on a plane.

Andrew is survived by his mother, Alisha, father, John and sister, Arianna. In their statement the family asked that no items be placed as memorials at the scene of the crash, and instead that residents tie a red ribbon to their property, and that instead of sending flowers residents donate to Troop 161, WHAM and MADD.

“Bright and hardworking, Andrew was an honor roll student,” the family’s statement said. “Classmates, teachers and friends found him sometimes silly, always funny and, occasionally, a bit cheeky. He was a friend to everyone and showed kindness to all.”

This post was updated Oct. 8 to include the possibility the District Attorney will upgrade charges against Murphy.

A man allegedly driving while intoxicated struck several Boy Scouts from a Shoreham-based troop Sunday while they were walking on David Terry Road in Manorville, killing one, according to police.

Thomas Murphy. Photo from SCPD

Thomas Murphy was driving a 2016 Mercedes southbound on David Terry Road at approximately 1:55 p.m. Sept. 30 when his vehicle struck a group of Boys Scouts who were walking northbound on the shoulder of the roadway. Five scouts, from Troop 161 of the Boys Scouts of America, ranging in age from 12 to 16, were struck by the vehicle. One of the scouts was transported via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital and the other four were transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

Andrew McMorris, 12, of Wading River, died from his injuries sustained during the incident, according to police Oct. 1. He was initially transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in critical condition, then was ultimately transported via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital. Thomas Lane, 15, of Shoreham, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital where he is being treated for serious injuries. Denis Lane, 16, Shoreham, Kaden Lynch, 15, of Calverton, and Matthew Yakaboski, 15, of Calverton, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Murphy, 59, of Holbrook, was charged with driving while intoxicated. He will be held overnight at the 7th Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Oct. 1.

Detectives are asking anyone who may have witnessed this incident to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220 TIPS. Attorney information for Murphy was not immediately available.

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