Sullivan’s Island — Only a green knit cap sat on the horse as Luke Cavanaugh’s friends led the animal from the slain 17-year-old’s house through town to a church packed with mourners Friday morning.
It was a solemn tribute to the Wando High School junior who was stabbed Sunday night in Mount Pleasant during a fight with a fellow student over messages sent through the smartphone app Snapchat.
Nearly a dozen of Cavanaugh’s closest friends carried white carnations and followed the horse for a mile as it trotted down Middle Street to The Church of the Holy Cross, where they gathered for his funeral.
At times, an ocean-borne breeze blew the hat that Cavanaugh often wore off the 10-year-old Tennessee walker named Hank. At times, Cavanaugh’s friends laughed, and at others, their eyes welled with tears.
“These kids have lost something so significant to them,” said Stuart Foss of Mount Pleasant, the horse’s owner whose nephew was friends with Cavanaugh. “They needed something real to remember him by. Everything is just so weird about this.”
The 16-year-old suspect in Cavanaugh’s death, Matthew Joseph Fischer of Old Jay Lane in Mount Pleasant, remains jailed on charges of murder and possession of a knife in a violent crime.
The circumstances of the slaying have rattled the communities where the suspect and the victim lived. It happened on Baltusrol Lane in the Park West community, where homicides are rare.
A spokeswoman for the Cavanaughs, Jessica Munday, said Friday that the family was mourning in private but that they extended their gratitude for community members’ “thoughts, prayers and support.”
Loved ones laid flowers and a wreath on the hood of the white 1981 Chevrolet Corvette that Cavanaugh had been working to restore in the carport of his condo near Station 18 on the island. He had planned to study automotive engineering and design at the University of Cincinnati.
A sticker in the shape of a guitar — an instrument he loved to play — was affixed to a corner of the car’s windshield. “In memory of Luke,” it said.
His friends huddled Friday morning at the nearby cannon from Fort Moultrie before they set out with the horse for Cavanaugh’s funeral.
During the small procession that needed advance approval from the town, some cars traveling on the main drag pulled over out of respect.
To those who took part, the tribute was their version of the riderless horse often used in military funerals to symbolize fallen soldiers.
Edward Parker watched as his son, a close friend of Cavanaugh’s, took the reins for the journey.
To Parker, who lived next door to Cavanaugh, the display was appropriate for a young man who wouldn’t use the typical slang words such as “like,” “dude,” “man” or “yo” so often employed by his generation in conversation. That memory of Cavanaugh stuck with Parker and others who knew him.
“Luke would talk to you and care about what you’re saying,” Parker said. “He’d talk like an adult. He was mature beyond his years.”
Rachel Rutledge of Sullivan’s Island, a teacher at Wando who had Cavanaugh in an entrepreneurship class, shared a similar recollection as she made her way to the church. Cavanaugh was a “fine young man” who will be missed in the halls of the 3,860-student high school, she said.
“He was very passionate and entertaining,” Rutledge said. “He always had a huge smile on his face. You could count on that.”
But while the memories would linger for his loved ones, they said they still have struggled to make sense of the tragedy.
The Mount Pleasant Police Department said Fischer, the suspect, was visiting his girlfriend Sunday night when Cavanaugh contacted her through Snapchat, an app in which messages are designed to disappear up to 10 seconds after it’s received. The app’s role in the case has been captured in news headlines worldwide.
Fischer then urged Cavanaugh through messages to “come over” and said “I’ll kill you, man,” according to detectives.
Cavanaugh went to the duplex and was stabbed during a fight. He died in the street in front of the home.
“They’re in pain over this,” Parker said of Cavanaugh’s loved ones. “It was shocking for them. It was not supposed to happen.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.