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Suffolk Boy Scout official: 'Andrew greatly influenced all of our lives'

Andrew McMorris died after a drunken driver crashed

Andrew McMorris died after a drunken driver crashed into him and injured three other Boy Scouts from Troop 161 while they were on a 20-mile hike in Manorville in 2018. Credit: McMorris Family

Andrew McMorris was a kid with many passions: a painter, musician, skilled skier, hiker and aspiring commercial airline pilot.

"Andrew was our little renaissance man," says his mom, Alisa McMorris, of Shoreham-Wading River.

At the base of the nearly completed McMorris Lodge named after the 12-year-old, his family placed a small toy plane, aviator sunglasses, a Boy Scout patch, a paintbrush and a guitar pick to "represent his spirit."

Nearly 400 people toured the lodge at the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Calverton during the inaugural Andrew McMorris Memorial Walkathon on Friday. The participants walked about a mile to remember the seventh-grader, who died after a drunken driver crashed into him and injured three other Boy Scouts from Troop 161 while they were on a 20-mile hike in Manorville in 2018.

"Andrew is part of the foundation of that building, both in sprit and physically," said Arianna McMorris, 18, his sister, in an interview after the walkathon.

Participants wore masks and practiced social distancing, going on the walk and building tour in small groups, said Donna Lillie, an organizer and member of the executive board for the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts of America.

The Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts, along with the Andrew McMorris Foundation and his family members, organized the event, which aimed to raise money to help cover the cost of constructing the building and purchase furnishings. Organizers are collecting donations and raised $113,000 of their $130,000 goal as of Friday evening.

"We find it so therapeutic for us to do events like this alongside the community, our friends and the Scouts," said John McMorris, Andrew's father. "It helps us take the next step forward in our healing."

The event originally was supposed to take place on March 28, two days before what would have been Andrew's 14th birthday, but the organizers were forced to postpone the event because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having the event close to Thanksgiving made it all the more special, Lillie said.

"We all have so much to be thankful for," she said. "Andrew greatly influenced all of our lives, and he'll be influencing scouts for generations to come."

The holiday was particularly difficult emotionally for the McMorris family, John McMorris said. The family placed a photo of Andrew, a candle and a Thanksgiving project he did as a kindergartner, on the table where he would have sat, he said.

"It was very hard having an empty seat because he should be here with us," John McMorris said.

The lodge will be used for the Boy Scouts and for corporate events, Lillie said. It can accommodate up to 40 people for overnight stays with separate sleeping quarters for boys and girls, as well as accommodations for Scout leaders, she said. It has a full kitchen, meeting space, and indoor and outdoor fireplaces, she said.

"It's such a great honor what the Scouts have done in naming this building after Andrew and representing his scouting spirit," John McMorris said. "He truly loved being a Boy Scout."

The family started the foundation in Andrew's name less than a year after the collision because they "wanted to put their grief into action," the foundation website states. They plan on working with legislators on driving while intoxicated legislation, they said.

Thomas Murphy, 61, was sentenced on Sept. 30 — two years to the day after the crash took place — to 8⅓ to 25 years in prison. He was convicted in December 2019 of two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, driving while intoxicated and other charges after a 5 1/2-week trial.

Lillie said she admires the McMorris family's drive to keep their son's spirit alive and "turn grief into action."

"As a parent of three kids, I'm inspired by what they do every day," Lillie said. "They've moved from parenting Andrew to parenting his legacy, and they take that very seriously."

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