As a friend drove her to lunch on Folly Beach on Thursday, Nanci Shipman was surprised to look out the passenger-side window and see a tribute to her late son Creighton.
There stood the Folly boat, painted white with large blue letters “CS#22” — the teen’s initials and the number he wore on his lacrosse jersey — and next to it in pink, the words “Shipman Strong,” and lacrosse sticks.
On July 17, 2016, Creighton Shipman died of a heroin overdose at age 19, just 48 hours after his release from rehab.
“What happened with the boat was a complete surprise,” Shipman said Friday. “It was really neat.”
By the time she and friends had eaten lunch and headed back to Mount Pleasant, the boat had been painted over by the S.C. Secessionist Party with Confederate battle flag images.
“There was no indication it was a memorial of any kind,” said party chairman James Bessenger on Friday. “Had it been more clear that it was a memorial, we would have waited. I have family members that struggle with addiction, so it could very well be me in her place someday. Our tagging the boat wasn’t personal toward her or her grieving family in any way.”
Shipman’s three teenagers — Wheaton, Jack and Hollice — and their friends were irritated by the brevity of their handiwork, but Shipman was a little more reflective.
“It gets painted over all the time,” she said. “We had our moment and that’s what it’s all about.”
This week — indeed the past year — has been difficult for Shipman.
Her son, a 2015 Wando grad, was a talented lacrosse player on athletic scholarship at Mars Hill University.
Four years earlier, an injury at a lacrosse tournament had led to emergency surgery for an abscess in his leg. The opioid painkillers he was prescribed afterward gave him his first “high,” she said.
She now knows that her son started using heroin in November 2015, first smoking it and then injecting it.
About 80 percent of new heroin users start with prescription opioid abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Nationally, 129 people per day die from drug overdoses and 61 percent of those deaths can be attributed to heroin or other opioids.
In Charleston County, the rate of heroin-related deaths is 15 percent higher than the national per-capita average.
After Creighton’s death, his family wanted to share their story. They created the Creighton Shipman 22 Forever Foundation to provide education about addiction, treatment and recovery, and they became involved in Wake Up Carolina, a DEA campaign to end heroin and opioid deaths and abuse.
But as the anniversary of Creighton’s death approached, Shipman decided that the family would spend July 17 quietly together.
Her children, however, wanted more.
“They wanted to do something that was positive,” Shipman said. “They were like, ‘I want to celebrate him, his smile and the twinkle of his eyes and his love of life.’”
Shipman enlisted her support group to organize Creighton Shipman: A Light Forever Shines, which will be 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday — July 22, Shipman points out — at the Isle of Palms Exchange Club, 201 Palm Blvd. The family event will include food, music and games.
Shipman intends to roll out plans for the foundation at the event.
“I thought this might be the right time,” she said. “I am excited and happy about Creighton and how his light can continue to shine on our community and our friends.”
She envisions Creighton’s House, a place where teens and young adults in recovery can hang out, get support and feel safe, she said. She doesn't know yet where the house will be, she said.
“I want it to be a place where all would feel welcome,” she said. “I want it to be what I would want this community to have if Creighton were to come back in recovery.”