Outside the home where Tucker Hipps lived, his parents have hung an orange stocking with a Tiger paw on it.
What they find there on Christmas morning will be all they have left of the 19-year-old Clemson student whose death three months ago remains an unsolved mystery.
In that stocking, the same one Tucker hung for Santa to fill when he was a child, they have asked friends to write their memories of Tucker.
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Cindy and Garry Hipps will spend their Christmas morning reading those scraps of paper, keeping their son’s memory alive even as they continue to seek answers about his death during an early morning run with his fraternity.
“That’s the one thing we’re looking forward to on Christmas morning is reading those memories,” Cindy Hipps said. “We hope that will somewhat ease the pain of not having him here, just thinking about all the memories we have.
“Hopefully there will be some memories in there that we don’t know about, something new about him.”
The family has heard little from the authorities about the investigation in recent weeks, she said. They’ve heard nothing from the fraternity and haven’t heard from Clemson University in about a month.
She said they have gotten no information from the autopsy of their son’s body, which was found on the Oconee County side of Lake Hartwell between the twin bridges on State 93.
“We’re still actively pursuing the truth,” she said.
CrimeStoppers is still seeking information and will be putting up a billboard in Clemson soon, she said.
Members of the fraternity called the campus police the afternoon after their pre-dawn run asking if he had been seen. According to their story, he had fallen behind and wasn’t discovered missing until the others were back on campus.
“There’s a certain amount of information, but there’s that missing time as to when Tucker actually went off that bridge,” Cindy Hipps said. “They don’t know how or why he went off the bridge.”
“There’s really no hard evidence.”
Christmas is “going to be a very dark day for me and Gary,” she said. “We’re trying to hold on to our faith and know that it’s only temporary that we’ll never see him again.
“But you know, you just long for that touch, that talk, that smile. He was such a lovely kid. I would just like to talk to him one more time, touch him one more time.”
The stocking idea she got from a group called the Compassionate Friends, for people who have lost children.
“You never know the last time you see them that that’s the last time you’re going to see them,” she said. “And you sure don’t ever know when you send them off to college that you’re never going to see them again when they’re perfectly healthy.”
On the day after Christmas, Tucker’s dad is scheduled for gall bladder surgery. It’s the first time he’s ever been in a hospital, Cindy said.
“We’re just trying to get through Christmas, trying to make the best of it,” she said. “It’s pretty darn hard.
“Some days are better than others. Some days you feel normal,” she said, “and some days you can hardly breathe.”
The Hipps are doing what they can to carry on through the holiday season without their only son.
Instead of a traditional Christmas tree like the family usually has, Cindy put up a white tree, decorated with silver and gold and adorned with numerous angels, many of them gifts.
“I’ve gotten angels from people I don’t even know,” she said. “It’s just amazing how people reach out to you in a tragedy like this.”
“Christmas,” she said, “does give us hope.”