The 13-year-old Beaufort boy who drowned this weekend in Colleton County was described Monday by school officials as a bright student with a promising future who loved the outdoors.
Norman "Kirk" Kirkland Jr. was swimming with his grandfather and a cousin in the Ashepoo River near Crosby's Landing at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday when he disappeared under the water and did not resurface, according to Deputy Chief Ted Stanfield of the Colleton County Sheriff's Office.
Colleton County Fire Rescue divers were called in to search for Kirkland. He was found near a boat ramp near U.S. 17 farther downriver, about 10 minutes after the divers entered the water. Stanfield said Kirkland's uncle told deputies the boy was swimming downriver from a boat ramp to a nearby dock when he drowned.
Stanfield said Kirkland likely got pulled under by a strong current near the U.S. 17 bridge. A Fire Rescue report noted an outgoing tide had produced a strong current in the area.
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Kirkland, a seventh-grader at Whale Branch Middle School, attended the AMES Academy at Beaufort Elementary School from third to fifth grades, according to Whale Branch principal Matthew Hunt.
"He was a great kid, who loved the outdoors and always wore camouflage," Hunt said. "He was a smart kid, too. He loved to debate his teachers. He took earnest stands and had deep convictions. A politician would've been a great career for him."
Kirkland's sixth-grade math teacher, Peter Burvenich, called Kirkland a "well-rounded, very intelligent student."
"He would quickly be able to answer problems, and he was always on the right track," Burvenich said. "He was able to work out problems in a different way than I'd show the class."
Now a teacher at Shanklin Elementary School, Burvenich spent part of the day at Whale Branch sitting with former students and reminiscing about Kirkland to help them cope with the loss.
"My students are my family, and I knew they would be hurting," he said. "It's a tough situation for middle school students to handle. We reminisced about all the good things Norman stood for. Someone is never gone unless you've forgotten them."
Both Hunt and Burvenich said they called Kirkland's parents to express their condolences and offer their support. Hunt said Kirkland's mother encouraged students, teachers and friends of her son to attend services for him Wednesday.
Hunt said he and a school counselor went to all four seventh-grade homerooms to tell the students that a classmate had died. Each classroom had a certified counselor during the day for students to talk to, and Hunt said several area pastors and certified counselors offered their services to the school for the day.