John McMorris walked 10 miles on Monday holding a framed photograph of his son, Andrew, a year to the day after the 12-year-old was killed by an alleged drunken driver while on a Boy Scout hike.
The father was among hundreds of people who took part in a “Finish the Hike” memorial walk commemorating Andrew.
They walked past the spot where Andrew was killed and four other Scouts injured in Manorville during a Sunday hike last year. Then they made their way through wooded parkland before ending at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
John McMorris was overcome with emotion as his group reached a midway rest point at Fireman’s Memorial Park in Ridge.
He spoke of the unfathomable grief he feels for the loss of his son and called it a “very emotional day,” one that was “very jubilant and somber but yet positive.”
“We’re walking for Andrew and we are honoring him and we are coming together as a Scouting family to heal,” he said.
Some of the marchers hiked one mile, others five miles, others the full 10.
Many of the 530 people who participated were Scouts from across Suffolk, but there were also relatives, friends and classmates of Andrew, said Bobby Rabbitt, a Suffolk County Boy Scouts leader who helped organize the memorial hike. They started the hike in shifts throughout the morning, so that donated buses were available to transfer them to the starting point and pick some up along the route.
“It was overwhelming to see the community come together to remember Andrew,” Rabbitt said. “It was overwhelmingly positive.”
The event also served as a fundraiser for a scholarship program established in Andrew’s name and for a new lodge that is being built at the Boy Scout facility at Baiting Hollow that also will bear his name.
Matt Yakavoski, a leader of Troop 161, to which Andrew belonged, said: “We’re all trying to heal, to have some closure, but there won’t be closure. There never will be.”
Still, he said of the event, “I hope it helps a little, a little bit of support, a little bit of healing.”
He recalled Andrew as a “fantastic young man, very active, involved.” He was talented in music and acting, and the summer before he died he had helped pilot a plane across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut, Yakavoski said.
There was no doubt, he added, that Andrew was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout.
Ryan Menier, 16, of Kings Park, traveled to the event with other members of Troop 75 based out of Kings Park.
“I think it is really great that we are all out here together,“ he said.
As he hiked the trail, he said he was thinking of Andrew, and other members of his troop.
”I definitely felt for their pain,“ he said. “It really does hurt me to know that something like this can happen to truly anybody, especially Boy Scouts, who are trying to better their life and make good futures for themselves."
Dave Cooney, an adult leader of Troop 75, said he hopes the hike will become an annual event.
At the spot where Andrew was killed, hikers paused, said prayers and left behind items to honor him: flowers, notes, a plastic jack-o’-lantern.
A plaque with an image of the aspiring pilot on it read, “Your wings were ready, but our hearts were not. Fly High Andrew.”