On the first anniversary of their son’s death, the McMorris family was tasked with a goal: to finish the hike that their son was never able to complete.
More than 530 hikers gathered outside Shoreham-Wading River High School Monday morning to “finish the hike” in honor of Andrew McMorris, 12, who was killed Sept. 30, 2018 by an alleged drunk driver while hiking along David Terry Road with Boy Scout Troop 161 in Manorville.
With a portrait of his son in hand, John McMorris and his wife Alisa and daughter Arianna led over 100 hikers sporting red on a 10-mile hike through the Pine Barrens as part of the Greenbelt Trail network.
“Today there’s a lot of focus on doing what I taught my children always to do — to finish what they started,” Ms. McMorris said. “And today is symbolic of that.”
Scouts, family and friends in red T-shirts and hoodies labeled “Fly High, Andrew” hopped on school buses and were transported to the trailhead where police officers redirected traffic to ensure everyone’s safety.
Roughly one mile in, community members paid their respects to Andrew at the crash site before continuing on. Participants were able to ride buses back to the high school at the one, five, and 10-mile mark.
Each hiker was asked to make a $5 donation to the Andrew McMorris Foundation or the lodge fund to support construction of a cabin in his honor at the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp.
The event was organized by Boy Scouts of America Suffolk County Council and spearheaded by senior district executive for the Boy Scouts of Suffolk County, Bobby Rabbitt.
Ms. McMorris said her family discussed hosting a memorial event on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. When the family visited the Suffolk County Council, that group suggested hosting a community-based event to finish the hike the Scouts began that day.
“We were talking to them about wanting to do it and then they said, ‘I think this should be something we heal together [on],’ she said. “So we went along with a great idea of finishing what we started.”
Boy Scouts of America chief operating officer Lauren Vlachos said the large group of hikers doesn’t come as a surprise to her.
“Honestly this is what they usually do, they come together to support one another and to give back to their community,” she said.
Troop 161 is Mr. Rabbit’s district; he met Andrew as a young Cub Scout.
“He was a remarkable young man and to be able to put something like this together and to see the outpouring of support … it really touches me,” he said. “It really makes me feel good that the support that they have is so tremendous.”
The group wanted the hike to be accessible to friends and family of Troop 161 and to fellow mourning Scouters, Mr. Rabbitt said.
“It really is an overwhelming response to how close-knit, not just the regular community but also the scouting community is,” he said
As hikers returned from the trails, the Wildcat Athletic Club and Greek Island Diner in Wading River provided drinks and food at the concession stand at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.
Ms. McMorris said the outpouring of support helps her grieve.
“When you’re grieving, having other people help support you when you feel shattered is immensely important,” she said. “They help keep those pieces together for you while you feel like you can’t stand. That’s what this is about for us today.”
After the hike, the Andrew McMorris Foundation was hosting a benefit fundraiser at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead that featured food, live music by Decadia, special guests and raffle prizes.
Ms. McMorris said she hopes the event encourages attendees to be kind to one another.
“Finishing the hike and sharing Andrew’s love, legacy and kindness is what [this] is about for us,” she said.