Many people wore camouflage to the memorial service at Batesburg-Leesville High School for their friend who drowned in Lake Murray on Sunday.
Most of the grieving teenagers in the crowd of nearly 300 wore hunting camouflage paired with boots and gym shorts – Waeland Peeples’ favorite outfit.
But some community members in the military wore military camouflage.
Waeland’s parents, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Peeples and Staff Sgt. Jennifer Donnelly Peeples, had been deployed in Afghanistan when their son drowned. They returned to the United States on Wednesday, a day before the Thursday service.
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Waeland’s older brother, Josh Peeples, was in Texas preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan as well.
Waeland, who was 17, and his younger brother, Ethan, were living with their grandmother.
Waeland Peeples understood that being deployed was his parents. job, said Brittany Hydrick, one of his close friends.
Brittany planned the memorial.
“I really don’t know how I did it,” Brittany said. “I had Waeland helping me the whole time.”
Britanny wore a T-shirt, gym shorts and boots, which had mud on them, she said, because Waeland loved mud bogging – driving a truck through a pit of mud.
The wardrobe was part of Waeland’s presence, said Eric Gambrell, who taught him history last spring.
“That’s him, 100 percent,” Gambrell said.
The funeral will be held Saturday for Waeland, who drowned when he tried to swim to shore from a pontoon boat at the lake. He almost made it to shore when he disappeared under the water’s surface.
Thursday’s crowd was substantial for a school of about 500 students. They flocked back to the school after getting out for the summer just a couple of weeks ago.
Losing a student affects the whole school community, said Lisa Allison, an instructional coordinator.
“Our hearts break, just like the family’s do,” she said.
A diverse group of friends shared their favorite memories of Waeland. Many were funny – some had to do with him stuffing food in the pockets of his gym shorts.
Gambrell said each year he assigns students to write a paper about the most influential person in their lives.
He said while most people write about family members, Waeland wrote about Bob Marley.
Waeland had a passion for music, said Dustin King, the school’s director of bands.
Waeland was a percussionist in the Panther Marching Band, and he enjoyed rapping.
Many students remembered their friend as someone who could turn their day around.
Brittany told a story about when she ran out of gas near where Waeland lived and he drove up on an electric golf cart to help her.
Even though the classmates laughed at the memories, their grief was not camouflaged. They gave each other long hugs and shed tears on each others’ shoulders.
“A loss like Waeland’s, it impacts us,” Allison said. “It impacts us very badly.”