A Shoreham-Wading River High School freshman was found dead Wednesday morning in Shoreham after a frantic search by community members and police following his disappearance a day earlier.
Nick Donnelly, 14, was found at 7:50 a.m. in a wooded area off Royal Way, just a short distance from his home on Chambord Court, Suffolk County police and a family member confirmed. The cause of death appears non-criminal, police said.
Nick’s uncle Donald Donnelly said Wednesday that Nick’s parents are awaiting results from the medical examiner’s office.
Mr. Donnelly said the family wished to express its gratitude for the community’s “love and support.”
“[Nick] was an excellent student and a two-way athlete,” he said. “A very tough wrestler and a very good baseball player. He was also a very outgoing kid with a lot of friends.”
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Nick left his house to go for a run around 10 a.m. Tuesday, police said. School was closed that day in observance of Rosh Hashana.
The news of Nick’s disappearance quickly spread through social media Tuesday night, with community members gathering in Shoreham to help with the search, which included a police K-9 unit. Friends and neighbors said Tuesday night they had been searching trails and surrounding neighborhoods as far away as Rocky Point High School. They said Nick left home without a cellphone.
Nick’s teammates on the Shoreham wrestling team joined the search effort, said varsity coach Joe Condon.
After the search yielded no results overnight, Mr. Condon said Wednesday morning he learned Nick had been found dead.
“A very sad day for his family, SWR wrestling and the entire community,” Mr. Condon said. “He will be missed.”
The coach remembered Nick as a “tremendous competitor, teammate and friend.” He wrestled at 99 pounds in some varsity matches last year as an eighth-grader.
“He was a young man with character and class,” the coach said. “Words cannot describe his loss. Our entire community is devastated.”
The Shoreham-Wading River School District is providing grief counselors and support services to students and staff as needed, according to Neil Lederer, the district’s interim superintendent. At the family’s request, the district has not disclosed further information.
Mr. Donnelly said the family is “absolutely devastated.”
Nick was one of three boys. His brother Luke is in 11th grade and Kyle is a sixth-grader, Mr. Donnelly said.
Ultra Romero, an employee at Pellegrino’s Pizza, located less than a mile from Nick’s home, was shocked by the news.
“This is bad, bad news for Shoreham,” he said, shaking his head.
Mr. Romero said he knew the teen and his family.
“They are good parents, a good family,” he said. “They come in here all the time.”
At a nearby bagel café, a neighbor who declined to identify herself said she and her husband had looked for the boy with others from their neighborhood. Some wore headlamps and searched the streets, she said.
“I was hoping he ran away or was hiding in a friend’s basement,” she said. “I never thought this.”
All sports contests at Shoreham-Wading River School District were canceled Wednesday afternoon, school officials said. They will be rescheduled.
The news is another blow to a community reeling from several tragedies in the past two years. Nick’s death came nearly two years to the day after Thomas Cutinella died Oct. 1, 2014, at age 16 following a collision during a football game. In May, recent Shoreham graduate Kevin Callejas died at age 19 in a single-car crash. A beloved security guard at the high school, Richard Cambria, also died in a single-car crash last October at age 49.
Students at the school were hit hard by the latest tragedy Wednesday.
“Everyone went home. It’s dead silent,” said senior Ryan Heater. “It’s horrible.”