Memorial service honors classmate
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - To remember a young life cut tragically short, speakers at the funeral service for a George Washington High School freshman told mourners to think about the teen's humor and his infectious smile, but also to be safe.
Family, friends and classmates packed the auditorium at the University of Charleston's Riggleman Hall Thursday afternoon to remember Drew Morton, 14, of South Charleston and to say goodbye. Only standing room was available.
A white casket sat at the front of the auditorium, draped with a white Patriots jersey No. 73 and topped with a football helmet. A spray of flowers surrounded the helmet.
Drew's teammates sat on the left side of the auditorium, all wearing their white jerseys in honor of their friend.
Drew, an offensive and defensive tackle on the Patriot football team, died Sunday afternoon after a car crash on Quarry Ridge Road. Word of the crash spread quickly. Hours later, more than 1,000 friends and classmates were on the GW football field for a candlelight vigil.
He died on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and a high holy day. The holiday began at sundown Sunday.
Traditionally, an apple is dipped in honey to remind the faithful of the sweetness of life, said Rabbi Victor Urecki, who officiated at the service.
But this year the holiday was bittersweet for a community in deep mourning.
"At sundown Sunday as we saw at the GW football field, where many of you were, hearts were dipped in tears, not honey," Urecki said. "There was no joy, not at the Morton home, not at George Washington High School and not in this community.
"But then something remarkable happened. We began to talk, to share our memories about Drew. Through hundreds of posts people began sharing their love across the social network from all over. People began calling to comfort the family and each other, to remember this remarkable young man."
The rabbi said he met with Drew's family and friends and listened to his "brotherhood of buddies."
The friends told him of Drew's goodness, his humor, his happy-go-lucky personality and his "yeah, I'll try that" attitude. The rabbi said Drew sweetened the lives of everyone he touched.
"Drew, as I heard, was fearless. There was nothing he wouldn't try," Urecki said. "He was all male and had the scars to prove it."
But the rabbi didn't sugarcoat the matter and told the students and parents in attendance they would have to have serious conversations about not doing things that could endanger their lives.
"None of us are bulletproof," Urecki said. "No one should ever lose the gift of life thinking, 'It will never happen to me.' "
Drew was riding with his friend, Reed Deer, 15, Sunday afternoon when the crash occurred. Charleston police say Reed, who had a learner's permit, was driving his parents' 2006 Lexus convertible without an adult in the car.
The pair was headed from Reed's home to Tudor's Biscuit World when Reed lost control of the car, struck a utility pole and a tree and flipped over the hillside. The vehicle came to rest on its top. Reed was wearing a seatbelt and was restrained inside.
Drew, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the car. He was taken to Charleston Area Medical Center's General Hospital, where he died from his injuries.
GW Coach Steve Edwards Jr. said Drew was highly regarded. He said the way he carried himself set him apart from other students.
"His distinctive walk, the smile on his face," Edwards said. "The smile on his face always gave you the feeling that he knew something you didn't know or he was up to something you were definitely going to know about soon.
"He was always up for a good joke and a good time."
Edwards said other students gravitated toward the boy because of his leadership and personality.
The coach recalled the first time he met Drew. He was only 8 then, and he attended the Skills on the Hill football camp. Drew was introduced to the coach as "Porkchop," a nickname he carried in football circles until high school, when he was dubbed "The Joker" for his sense of humor.
"It seemed that everything to him was funny," Edwards said. "He could turn a tough drill into funny, and he could turn a serious moment, and a not-so-serious moment, into funny."
Edwards also read a statement from Drew's father, Thomas Morton, thanking the community and school for their support. The coach teared up as he read the message.
Thomas Morton wrote that he was on his way to Charleston to visit his son when he learned of the crash. The father planned to attend tonight's GW game to watch his son play and they had tickets for the West Virginia University football game on Saturday.
"(Drew) wants us to be safe and buckle our seatbelts," Edwards read from the father's statement.
"He wants us to know that he is OK and at peace and he misses us and he loves us. He wants us to express our love like he did and pay it forward."
The father asked for prayer and support for Reed, who was devastated by the loss of his friend, the coach read.
The teen was charged with negligent homicide Sunday evening and released to the custody of his parents.
"Reed has a pain that's even different than ours, and Drew would encourage us to support him," Edwards read. "Reed, we love you, and I love you, and the Morton family forgives you. This was an accident and nothing more.
"Just as the community has rallied around the Mortons, they will rally for you. We love you, Reed."
Drew was buried during a private service at Graceland Memorial Park in South Charleston. A dinner was held at GW Thursday evening.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4850.