William McMurray's friends and family took note of the many nonhuman attendees — whales, dolphins and deer — at his celebration of life last week.
It was fitting for a boy who loved animals so much.
William, 12, died Aug. 7 from the effects of a tumor on his brain stem.
Supporters gathered off Thalia Street Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning for a paddleout in his honor before an afternoon reception at the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course.
His mother, Sabrina McMurray, said during the reception that William had a great spirit.
"When he was 3, he yelled, 'You're beautiful,' to a lady across the street," she said. "He never went a day without saying, 'I love you.'"
Earlier in the day, she and her husband, Michael, boarded a yacht in Dana Point and moved up the coast to a spot about a mile off Thalia, Michael's favorite surfing beach and directly west of the Penguin Cafe, the couple's restaurant.
About 100 paddlers surrounded the yacht, and the McMurrays laid their only son to rest by placing his ashes, inside an urn made of salt, into the ocean.
Aquatic wildlife joined the paddlers.
"We saw a group of [eight] dolphins and followed them," Michael said. "Then we looked and saw five [gray] whales and another group of dolphins."
Later, about 75 to 100 people arrived at Aliso Creek to remember William at a casual reception.
A three-sided poster board filled with pictures of William and descriptions of him, such as "up for adventure" and "sense of humor," greeted the attendees, who could sit at circular tables draped in white tablecloths set up on an outdoor patio.
The menu was made up of classic kid fare: chicken tenders, sliders, French fries.
William was mature for his age and outgoing, Sabrina said.
Noni Jimenez, Sabrina's sister, remembered his ability to maintain balance and his athletic acumen — William liked baseball.
"At home he would walk on a ledge in the backyard and had such control of his space," Jimenez said. "Catching a ball and throwing a ball was natural."
William spent his final two months in bed, the tumor's effects taking a toll on his body. He had a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or brain stem glioma, and couldn't speak during that time, Sabrina said.
The tumor, known as DIPG, is aggressive and difficult to treat. It's found at the base of the brain in the pons, which controls vital body functions such as breathing, according to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
"DIPG cuts off the communication from the brain to the body," Sabrina said.
Doctors diagnosed William with the tumor in July 2012 and treated him with radiation, she said. An MRI taken in February revealed that the tumor had started growing again, yet it didn't stifle his perseverance.
"He was awesome," Sabrina said. "He fought the battle well, with dignity."
"Most patients have less than three months and many less than three weeks of symptoms prior to diagnosis," according to the Dana-Farber website. The cause of brain stem glioma is unknown.
William attended Top of the World Elementary School in third and fourth grade and moved to El Morro Elementary School for part of his fifth-grade year, Sabrina said.
While William never attended classes at Thurston Middle School, he occasionally joined students for lunch, she said.
Friends and family described Friday's service as perfect and magical, alluding to the dolphins and whales, and the number of people who arrived to support the McMurrays, who were born and raised in Laguna Beach.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun