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Boy Scouts

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.

Red ribbons adorned 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

In a continuing show of support for a fallen youth in the North Shore community, Shoreham-Wading River High School will play host to the first annual Andrew’s Run Dec. 15 at 9 a.m. to support a local Boy Scout troop after its tragic loss. 

“Andrew was going to do his first run for the cross country team in Shoreham before the tragedy,” said Matthew Yakaboski, the scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 161. The troop experienced the tragic loss of 12-year-old member Andrew McMorris from an alleged drunk driving incident in October. “This is a significant run,” Yakaboski added. “He just started his cross country career. He enjoyed running and just wanted to be part of the team.”

The race is coming together through the efforts of 16-year-old Miller Place student Danelle Rose, who is taking her passion for running and using it to support her neighboring communities.

“I, like many people, was extremely heartbroken by this tragedy,” Rose said. “I really wanted to help them heal the best that I could.”

Andrew, who was a seventh-grader at Albert G. Prodell Middle School in Shoreham, died Oct. 1 after an alleged drunk driver struck him and four of his fellow Scouts in Boy Scout Troop 161 while they were walking along the shoulder of David Terry Road in Manorville during a hike. Only days after the tragedy, community members from Riverhead to Miller Place came out in strong support of the family and troop, posting red ribbons on mailboxes, street signs and outside shops. The McMorris family was adamant that any monetary donations should go to Troop 161, the Shoreham-Wading River School District’s Wildcat Helpers of the Arts and Music and the nonprofit advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

All proceeds from the Dec. 15 run are slated to go toward the construction of 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. 

“[Troop 161] is beginning to recover from the event, but the McMorris family still has a long, long road ahead,” Yakaboski said. “Whatever we can do to show the community is behind them is tremendous.”

Rose, who is a member of both the Miller Place High School’s varsity track and cross country teams, said she knew the family through John McMorris, Andrew’s father, who is a guidance counselor in her school district.

“I wanted to help these three communities; Miller Place because Mr. McMorris works there, Shoreham because that’s where Andrew lived and Riverhead because that’s where the troop members were from, too.” 

The 2.5-mile run/walk will start at the high school baseball field, then take participants down the lower lacrosse fields, back up around the upper soccer fields then enter into the trails briefly before exiting out onto the upper soccer fields again before coming back to the finish line.

Jackie Rose, Danelle’s mother, said she is proud of her daughter’s efforts, adding, “She’s just a well-rounded excellent student, and she does what she needs to do.” 

There is a $10 entry fee to sign up, but donations are also accepted. Sign-ups start on the day, Dec. 15, at 8 a.m., but people can register before the race at runsignup.com/race/ny/
shoreham/andrewsrun until Dec. 13.

*This post was amended to restructure Jackie Rose’ biography

Joseph DiBiasi shows off his completed project at the William Miller House property on North Country Road in Miller Place Sept. 29. Photo by Alex Petroski

Visitors to Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society’s annual Postman Pete event are in for an improved experience thanks to the ingenuity of a local Boy Scout who has reached Eagle status.

Boy Scouts hoping to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable by a male Scout, are tasked with completing a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits the community. Joseph DiBiasi, a 17-year-old Comsewogue High School senior and member of Boy Scout Troop 1776 said he has been attending the historical society’s Postman Pete festivities since he was a kid, an event that gives kids the chance to hand over a letter to be delivered to Santa around Christmas time.

Those interested line up to head into the building on the rear of the historical society’s property on North Country Road in Miller Place, where they head in when it’s their turn. The small building on the same grounds as the larger William Miller House has two points of entry, though the rear exit had about an 18-inch drop off from the doorway to a layer of rocks, making it unsafe for youngsters to utilize. Instead, a logjam would regularly take place at the main point of entry where those entering would have to saunter around those exiting.

“When kids would come in and see Postman Pete, bring their letter, and then they’d have to make a U-turn and go back out,” society treasurer Gerard Mannarino said Sept. 29 during the ceremony to unveil DiBiasi’s completed project. “It’s not an area that you can have traffic in both directions. We always wanted to be able to open the back door and have them go out, but we had the danger because the step down from there was big and it was just a big rock.”

For his project, DiBiasi drew up plans and constructed a deck, equipped with a railing, to make the rear of the building accessible and usable. The project required the drawing of plans, approval from the Town of Brookhaven building department and Historic District Advisory Committee, some redrawing and reimagining and lots of hard work through the spring and summer.

“In 2016 when Gerrard originally showed this to me I was like, ‘Wow, this needs to be fixed,’” DiBiasi said. “As a kid I went to Postman Pete and I just felt like, when I was a kid it was a big thing for me. So I thought this would be a great addition.”

Greg Muroff, DiBiasi’s Scoutmaster, said he was proud of his Scout’s diligence and dedication to the project, as it also exposed him to some of the “red tape” involved with getting construction projects approved by local government.

“It came out better than I saw in the drawing,” Muroff said. “I knew this was going to be a bit challenging for him but Joseph definitely persevered. He aspires to be an engineer at some point in his life. He definitely has a mathematical mind, and he put pen to paper.”

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the event and presented proclamations to DiBiasi and Michael Muroff, another Scout from Troop 1776 who presented his completed project that day.

“We always like to take time out of our day to recognize and honor our Scouts,” Bonner said. “So much attention is focused on the bad things our kids are doing and not on the good things they’re doing. It makes me feel good to know that we’re surrounded by some really great kids.”

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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.

Local Boy Scout Troop 454 helps beautify the Greenway Trail as part of a community service project, led by James Nielsen. Photo by Alex Petroski

The popular walking trail that connects Setauket and Port Jefferson Station is getting much needed TLC from some of the community’s youngest leaders.

Fifteen-year-old James Nielsen of Terryville Boy Scout Troop 454 organized a clean-up effort on the Port Jefferson Station end of the Greenway Trail Oct. 29 and has future plans to create a sign post with a smartphone scannable QR code that will provide historical information alongside a bench in the trail. The plan would be part of James’ process to become an Eagle Scout.

At the other end of the 3.4-mile long nature trail, Eagle Scout candidate Jake Linkletter also organized a clean-up effort and fundraised for a new kiosk in the Gnarled Hollow Road parking lot in Setauket.

Local Boy Scout Troop 454 helps beautify the Greenway Trail as part of a community service project, led by James Nielsen. Photo by Alex Petroski
Local Boy Scout Troop 454 helps beautify the Greenway Trail as part of a community service project, led by James Nielsen. Photo by Alex Petroski

The cleanups were started to remove brush and litter from the trail as part of a beautification process.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the not-for-profit organization Friends of the Greenway Trail, is grateful for all of the work being done by local Scouts, which he called “invaluable.”

“This community spirit is what has and continues to make the Greenway the community gem we all hoped it would be,” McAteer said in an email. “Civic groups like Scouts have contributed via their fundraising thousands of dollars for improvements to the trail as well as hundreds of man hours in cleanups and creating the various improvements. As mentioned, all to help the community keep the Greenway clean — fulfilling the needs of our citizens.”

James said he feels the community service efforts are important because it shows how many people care about the area and its trail.

“I’ve [been] sending out emails to the people in my troop and the people I’ve been working with on the project — the fundraising people who have been working to get my project improved — It’s been a bit of work, but I’ve been glad for all the help that I’ve been getting,” he said. “I feel like it’s a good community.”

James attends JFK Middle School, and his parents Steven and Jean are both teachers in the Comsewogue School District.

From left Marc Difilippo, Jake Linkletter, AJ Colletta and David Linkletter install a new kiosk on the Setauket end of the trail. Photo by Nick Koridis
From left Marc Difilippo, Jake Linkletter, AJ Colletta and David Linkletter install a new kiosk on the Setauket end of the trail. Photo by Nick Koridis

“It has been an unbelievable experience to watch him,” James’ father said of his son. “When he started he was kind of shy and introverted, and to watch him grow throughout the years in Scouts — taking a leadership role … I’m so proud of him.”

James’ mother stressed the importance of doing something positive to benefit the community.

“It’s really nice to see something positive in Port Jefferson Station,” she said. “I feel like living here forever, we need some things to be proud of, some things for our community. But to have some pride, and see all of these residents working together, it’s just very, very exciting. I’m proud of James and the Boy Scouts.”

Strathmore Bagels in Setauket donated bagels on the morning of the cleanup. James has also set up a crowd-funding website where community members can donate money to support his project. He has received almost $450 in donations, and his ultimate goal is to raise $800. To contribute to his efforts visit www.youcaring.com/james-nielsen-659986.

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Firefighters tackle a blaze at the post office building on Main Street, which also housed the Port Jefferson Record. Photo from Port Jefferson Village archive

A post office and a newsroom went up in flames 68 years ago, in a fire that gutted a prominent three-story brick building in downtown Port Jefferson.

Firefighters tackle a blaze at the post office building on Main Street, which also housed the Port Jefferson Record. Photo from Port Jefferson Village archive
Firefighters tackle a blaze at the post office building on Main Street, which also housed the Port Jefferson Record. Photo from Port Jefferson Village archive

According to the village’s historical photo archive, the fire at 202 Main Street broke out on the Tuesday morning of Jan. 20, 1948, and engulfed the U.S. Post Office, the Port Jefferson Record newspaper office, a tailor shop, a law firm, the office of the Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Brookhaven Town Special Sessions Court and five families’ apartments.

Before it burned in the blaze, the building, located on the west side of the street, had been in the village for more than three decades. Construction began in 1911, according to the village archive, and it was finished the following year. The three-story structure was made of brick from the Dyett Sand-Lime Brick Company.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department got help from two neighboring departments to put out the fire, which took into the afternoon.

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Stock photo

Boy Scout Troop 45 and Cub Scout Pack 41 are hosting a pancake breakfast fundraiser to help make their activities sweeter.

The breakfast will take place on Sunday, May 17, from 8:30 a.m. until noon, at the Port Jefferson firehouse on Maple Place.

Scouts are selling tickets for the breakfast. Those tickets are $5 each and may be purchased at the door on the day of the breakfast fundraiser. Children under 6 are free.

All proceeds from the pancake breakfast benefit troop and pack activities and help defray the cost of summer camp for individual Scouts.

Both the troop and pack are sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of Port Jefferson.

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