John and Alisa McMorris walked the stage at Shoreham-Wading River High School to accept an honorary diploma for their late son, Andrew McMorris, who would have graduated Friday with his classmates. NewsdayTV’s Virginia Huie reports. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas; Howard Simmons; Photo credit: McMorris Family

While his classmates wore caps and gowns during graduation rehearsal Thursday, a photo of 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, frozen in time, joined the Class of 2024.

Andrew, who was killed in 2018 by a drunken driver while hiking with his Boy Scout troop in Manorville, had so many moments stolen from him: Christmases, birthdays, going to college.

But his parents, Alisa and John McMorris, of Wading River, vowed they would not miss out on his high school graduation. On Friday night, they accepted his posthumous diploma at Shoreham-Wading River High School as his name is read with his class.

“This is a huge milestone because this is the last reason for us to be here at the school. It’s where Andrew stayed a child and his friends become adults,” Alisa McMorris said. “Receiving this now … means more to us than I think we will ever know. It's a moment that is not stolen from us again, that we get to experience it with his classmates.”

The posthumous diploma is allowed under a new state ruling issued June 5, permitting districts to give them out at the family's request if the student was enrolled in the school or district at the time of death.

A posthumous diploma also will be given to the family of John Kane, a 16-year-old Shoreham-Wading River student who died in 2022.

Andrew had joined Boy Scout Troop 161 on Sept. 30, 2018, for the second half of a 20-mile hike, walking back from the Pine Barrens Trail Center in Manorville. He was struck by a drunken driver who crossed the white fog line on the shoulder of the road and also seriously injured three other Scouts. Andrew died of his injuries the next day. Andrew's father was with the group at the time.

Prosecutors said Thomas Murphy, now 65, of Holtsville, was leaving the Swan Lake Golf Club, where he had been drinking vodka cocktails about a mile away. He was convicted of multiple felonies and received the maximum sentence of 8⅓ to 25 years in prison.

“I received a panicked phone call that Andrew was struck by a car and I should come quickly. John put the phone down to him and I told him Mommy was coming,” Alisa McMorris said. “I had no idea that it was a drunken driver. And it hit me very hard to find out that it was something that was 100% preventable.”

Drunken driving deaths have increased 31% since 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration. On Long Island, 90 people died in alcohol-related crashes in 2022, according to the Institute for Traffic Safety.

Since Andrew's death, his family has dedicated their lives to carrying on his legacy. They have started a foundation in his name to distribute $100,000 in scholarships around the country. They also speak to schools and for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office about the dangers of drunken driving.

“There have been so many milestones that have passed that we've missed,” John McMorris said. “And of course there'll be future milestones as well, like his college graduation, getting married and having children, that all were stolen from us within a few seconds by one person and a poor choice that he made that day.”

But the family said the community and the graduating class of about 170 students have helped to celebrate their son’s memory.

His classmates gathered at the high school Thursday at a new outdoor amphitheater and memorial garden donated by the family's foundation, while his cap and gown hung by his photo. They signed his yearbook. His family still hosts his classmates to decorate for Christmas — Andrew’s favorite holiday — and his parents were invited to prom pictures.

Andrew's teachers and classmates remember the 12-year-old “Renaissance man,” who was already taking flight lessons and who would play the ukulele at school. 

“Andrew was always going out of his way to just make people's days better. So it was just almost a natural quality that brought people together,” said Kevin Vann, principal at Albert G. Prodell Middle School, where Andrew’s paintings still hang on the walls. “His legacy is that we strive to emulate the qualities that he had.”

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