Over 530 hikers crowded in the entrance to the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field at Shoreham-Wading River High School. On a day when school was out for Rosh Hashana, both the old and young still woke up in the wee hours of the morning wearing red shirts emblazoned with the words, “Fly High Andrew.”
The Boy Scouts of America Suffolk County Council, along with Troop 161 and the McMorris family, together organized to memorialize Andrew McMorris Sept. 30, who was killed by a drunk driver last year, by finishing the troop’s hike on the first-year anniversary of the young man’s death.
Robert Rabbitt, the senior district executive of the Suffolk Boy Scouts council, said the Scouts, family and troop wanted to do something on the year anniversary to remember Andrew, and while they expected a good turnout of a few hundred, the more than 500 people who pledged to participate stunned him.
“We’re overwhelmed by the response,” he said.
Andrew was hit by a drunk driver while on a hike with his troop last year in Manorville. The 12-year-old Shoreham resident was pronounced dead the following day. The legal battle is ongoing for Thomas Murphy, the Holbrook man who has been charged in the death of Andrew. The trial is expected to begin in November, though that could be delayed.
The hundreds of people gathered there came from all over Suffolk County, even as far away as Huntington, Rabbitt said. Members of the Miller Place Panthers football team also came to hike in support of the McMorris family. Andrew’s father, John, is a guidance counselor at the Miller Place High School.
Scouts and community members signed up to take a 1-mile, 5-mile or 10-mile version of the hike, helping to fundraise for the Andrew McMorris Foundation and to help create scholarships in Andrew’s name. The Boy Scouts council was also accepting donations to help build a new lodge at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Wading River, which will be named after Andrew.
“What a wonderful turnout to celebrate Andrew,” said Matt Yakubowski, scoutmaster for Troop 161, as he and his troop boarded the buses to take them to the hike’s staging grounds. “It’s going to be a touching day.”
The hike started at the Pine Barrens Information Center in Manorville before moving through the Pine Barrens. The hike took participants past the place where Andrew was killed for those looking to pay respects.
Troop 161 has done much in the year since Andrew’s death to both memorialize him and work toward healing. The troop created a garden outside the Brookhaven town-owned Robert E. Reid Sr. Recreation Center in Shoreham to commemorate his life. Future Eagle Scout projects are planned to help advocate against drunk driving.
Later that day, the Andrew McMorris Foundation hosted a benefit at Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, with the proceeds going to support the nonprofit.