April 13, 2014

Loved ones of those lost at sea gather for annual memorial in Murrells Inlet

It was difficult for Lisa Hutchison to agree to look into having her son’s name added to the Lost at Sea Memorial in Murrells Inlet.

It was difficult for Lisa Hutchison to agree to look into having her son’s name added to the Lost at Sea Memorial in Murrells Inlet.

When her son’s friend mentioned the possibility, she said she still was in denial that the remains found last April after a boating accident in Little River were her son.

“I was still in denial,” Hutchison said when she learned of the possibility of adding her son’s name to the memorial for those who’ve been lost at sea. “I was still awaiting DNA testing [on the remains]. When it came back that it was him, I knew this is where he’d want to be. He spent a lot of time out there on the water.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Kurtis Hutchison died April 21 when he swam out to retrieve a friend’s boat that had begun to drift away while they were celebrating a friend’s birthday near Bird Island and was struck by a commercial fishing boat. He was 26.

His name was added during an annual ceremony Sunday at Morse Park Landing to the 29 others who have gone out on the water and not returned.

The memorial began in 2006 when Laura Abernathy and her family went to purchase a marker in Hillcrest Cemetery in Conway for her brother, Johnny Brown, who was working as a commercial fisherman in 2005 when a wave hit the boat where he was working during a heavy storm. His body was never found.

At first Abernathy was told that she would have to buy a plot at the cemetery, “even though we didn’t have anything to put in it.”

After some discussion, she was able to purchase a memorial marker for her brother, but she thought of all of the other families who may face a similar hurdle when a loved one is lost.

Abernathy said the memorial is a place for those in mourning to come when their loved one has no final resting place, and the annual ceremony serves as a support system.

“At a funeral people will say, ‘I’m so sorry, I know what you’re going through,’ ” she said. “But a lot of times they really don’t. Here we know exactly what someone is going through because we’ve gone through it, too. … There are some families who travel here for [the memorial service] every year.”

Lisa Hutchison said she always loved the water and the ocean.

“It’s difficult for me to go out there now,” she said. “And Laura [Abernathy] said she’s the same way.”

Kurtis Hutchison’s is the first name to be added to the memorial since 2011. Those who have lost someone at sea must submit an application for review. Abernathy said when Georgetown County allowed them to use the park for the memorial, they were told to establish guidelines for adding new names. The person who is missing must either be from South Carolina, have family in South Carolina, or have disappeared off the S.C. coast.

“I’d love if we could add everyone’s name,” Abernathy said. “But the county said we had to set some criteria.”

Lisa Hutchison said since the little remains that were recovered are buried in Pennsylvania, where her family is from, she’s glad to have somewhere nearby she can go.

“It gives me some closure,” she said.

For more information about the Lost at Sea Memorial, visit www.lostatseamemorial.com.

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