Colleen Reedy had been preparing herself to say goodbye to William Thompson.
The 18-year-old, who'd lived in her Beaufort home since October and liked to call her ‘Mumsie,’ was graduating high school in May and planning to join the Army.
He'd probably be on his way by the end of the summer, along with her son, Griffin, and another Whale Branch Early College High School senior, Eryk, who was moving into the home until he left for college.
As it is, Thompson's caretaker and band of brothers are left saying a bitter goodbye two months shy of graduation. Thompson died early Sunday morning after a night of heavy drinking at a friend's party.
His close friends, who consider themselves as good as family, say that was unheard of for Thompson.
He may have partied some before he lived with Reedy, but she tried to be strict with her boys, and Thompson was never a problem.
The crew played video games and sports – Thompson ran cross country, his friends tennis and basketball – and made their own fun. On a recent trip to the gym, the 6’2”-boy scaled a rock wall to retrieve an extra harness, a feat that required a Spiderman-worthy leap in the end.
When he was done, he declared, “That's it, I've peaked” and sat the rest of the night, watching his friends with satisfaction.
“On my worst day, he’d have me laughing so hard I cried,” she said. “Will has this force about him.”
Though he could be as loud and brassy as the saxophone he played in the school band, he was more than a goof.
A hero to his 8-year-old sister, Izzy. A protector to the bullied. An inspiration to kids who, like him, struggled to make good grades in school. He'd spent much of the last year motivating another senior, Geron Benjamin, to stay focused and keep after his diploma.
“Will kept telling him over and over again, you're graduating. You're walking,” Colleen Reedy said. When she found out Sunday that the other boy hadn’t yet bought his robes, she promised him Will’s, which she'd just gotten on Friday.
“I'm like, 'Here you go, baby,'” Reedy recalled. “He said, ‘I'm going to graduate for Will.’”
The teen also was an organ donor, giving one person the gift of sight.
He was not, his friends insist, a partier.
“We just sit, and we watch golf. We’re those people” Griffin Reedy, 17, said with a shake of his head. “I don't know why he did this.”
On Monday, Griffin and another close friend, Jack Cain, sat and played with Jack's little sister at Reedy's house. Eryk Walton, who's moving in with the Reedy's for the summer, stood behind them cradling the family Pomeranian, Yoda.
Griffin pulled the sweatshirt he’d just bought with Will down over his floppy hair.
“They’re not troubled or trouble,” Joy Cain, Jack's mother said. “He’s not just a kid who made a bad choice.”
Griffin and William had parted ways after shopping on Saturday, before William was invited to a party in the 500 block of Parris Island Gateway by some old friends he knew from his freshman year at Battery Creek High School, Colleen Reedy said.
He got back home at about 10:30 p.m., “trashed” but somehow even more talkative than usual, Reedy said. And he knew she'd be mad.
“The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’”
Before going to bed, the boy told his caretakers he'd been pressured to chug different liquors – Jack Daniels, Jaeger, gin – for 10 or 20 seconds at a time. He said he knew he shouldn't have agreed and was sorry he'd made the Reedys worry about him and his safety. And he asked them not to be mad at the boy who’d gotten him home safe.
Later, his caretakers checked on him every hour and rolled him onto his side whenever they found him splayed on his back, which is how the burly teen liked to sleep, Reedy said.
It was Griffin who went in and found Thompson not breathing at just about 1:50 a.m. He called for his mom. She tried to breathe life back into Thompson until EMS arrived, but he never regained a pulse.
“A mother should never have to do CPR on her child,” Reedy said before her face crumpled and shoulders slumped, hands coming together to grasp her short red hair.
His friends said Monday they hate to think people will only know Thompson as a teenager who died from drinking, and one of three hospitalized after Saturday's party.
Though the funeral will be held in Harrisburg, Pa., where Thompson's mother is caring for his ailing grandmother, friends will remember him at a memorial this week. They hope to hold the event on Thursday at Community Bible Church on Parris Island Gateway.
For now, the loss has yet to sink in.
“I keep expecting him to come downstairs and say, 'Mumsie, what's for breakfast?'” Reedy said from her couch Monday, turning to look at the stairs by the front door. “He was a beautiful boy. I’m going to miss him so much.”
Attempts to reach Thompson's mother, Tonia, or father, Michael, were unsuccessful Monday.
An investigation is ongoing into who furnished alcohol to Thompson and other minors at the Saturday party, and criminal charges will be considered, according to Capt. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies are also awaiting the results of a toxicology report from Thompson’s autopsy to determine his cause of death, Bromage said.
Though Beaufort County public schools are on spring break, district spokesman Jim Foster said extra counselors will be on hand at Whale Branch on April 18 when students return.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to William’s family and friends,” Foster said Monday. “This is a terrible tragedy, and it’s even more difficult because he was taken from us at such a young age.”
- One teen dead, two hospitalized after Beaufort house party, April 10, 2016