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Prayer circle, shell packing planned at memorial for missing boy

Hours before the ocean stole a 4-year-old boy from his mother Wednesday afternoon in Kitty Hawk, it almost happened to another preschooler, a local child visiting the beach with his mom before a doctor’s appointment.

The mom managed to grab the child from the rough surf, drenching them both, but both walked away unscathed. The child’s preschool teacher described the near-tragedy at a homespun seashell-heart memorial on the beach at the Lillian Street access Thursday afternoon. She said it drove home what makes the story of the New Hampshire boy lost to the sea so heartbreakingly painful to so many parents: It could have been us.

“It was just an arm’s reach away, right within arm’s reach,” the teacher said.

The search continues for the 4-year-old Manchester, New Hampshire boy swept into the ocean as he mother watched helpless around 4 p.m., but Kitty Hawk Police Chief Joel Johnson called it a recovery mission.

Police and the Coast Guard said the boy and his family were vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. The child was walking along the beach with his mom, possibly even holding her hand, when the ocean pulled him away. The boy’s mother lost sight of him in the surf.

Authorities have not publicly released the boy’s name, but the name “Wesley” is written in the sand at the Lillian Street beach access memorial. Police and the Coast Guard say he is an only child.

Duck resident Mary Dunstan started the memorial after being unable to sleep the night of the boy’s disappearance. It blossomed from there, with toys and trinkets, messages in a blue bottle, memorial books filled with messages and a driftwood cross.

“I realized it’s the Lord’s plan for everyone to bring shells and just love each other,” she said.

Dunston, who has a contact to the family, is organizing a Sunday afternoon informal prayer circle at the beach access at 4 p.m. The shells, notes and mementos will be collected then, before the sea takes them, and given to the boy’s family. She’s also urging people to wear orange, Wesley’s favorite color, she said.

Dunston is also starting a movement to have the Lillian Street beach access renamed to “Wesley Street.”

In the meantime, Kitty Hawk police said they’ve received dozens of calls from people wanting to help search for the boy along the shore, and they welcomed anyone willing to volunteer. But they did ask for discretion for the family’s sake.

“If you happen upon something at the beach that requires a closer inspection by authorities please limit your communication to 911,” Chief Johnson said.

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