AIKEN - It was the little things that Matthew Morris liked.
Even as a child, cousin Cathy Carlson said, "he wanted you to understand that things worked in a certain way."
On Monday, Matthew's parents began the hard task of making funeral arrangements for their 14-year-old son but still managed to remember that part of his personality.
Matthew and his friend Joshua McLaughlin, 15, died Sunday in a landslide when a clay embankment collapsed on them.
"We were talking earlier today and said that he's probably sitting there right now explaining to God exactly what happened to make that wall of dirt fall," Ms. Carlson said Monday. "He was interested in the details."
The teens had recently become friends after starting their freshman year at Silver Bluff High School but had grown close enough that Matthew had spent Saturday night at Joshua's home on Gray Mare Hollow Road.
He had gone to church with the McLaughlins on Sunday morning, and that afternoon the boys went behind the ranch-style house to play.
More than an hour later, the older teen's family learned about the cave-in.
Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton said Monday that the youths died of asphyxiation because their chests were compressed by the sand and clay.
He estimated that about 5 tons of dirt fell on the boys, who had gone to an excavation site behind the McLaughlin home to play at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
The McLaughlin family had been using the sand and clay to shore up roads and other projects around their farm, Mr. Carlton said, and the embankment that fell was about 40 feet tall at a 90-degree angle.
"It just collapsed straight down," he said, "just like an avalanche."
Mr. Carlton said authorities found no evidence that the boys had been digging or done anything else to trigger the landslide.
"It's just a tragic day in Aiken," he said.
The McLaughlin house, which sits on a large tract of land in front of a pond, is decorated for the holidays, with red Christmas bows lining the fence and "Joy" spelled out on the front lawn in large letters.
Several vehicles were parked next to the house, and large dogs roamed free and greeted visitors who walked up to the house.
A man speaking for the McLaughlin family said they were not yet prepared to talk about Joshua or what happened.
The boys had been gone for about an hour Sunday afternoon when Joshua's parents began to worry, Mr. Carlton said, so they went looking for them.
Joshua's uncle found his body and called 911, and the teenager was pronounced dead at 4 p.m.
Matthew's body was found about an hour later, he said.
Matthew's immediate family - parents Andy and Nancy Morris and two sisters - designated Ms. Carlson to speak about their son.
Matthew was a "very smart young man," an active member of Jackson Bible Church who played the trumpet in the school band and was in the JROTC.
He recently had won "Cadet of the Month" for December, Ms. Carlson said, and seemed to have "found his calling."
He likely would have joined the armed forces when he was old enough, Ms. Carlson said, and would have used his strong faith in his career.
He would have wanted to "serve his country," she said.
"But personally, I think he would have ended up as a chaplain in the service or something," she said.
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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