An anonymous letter-writer who called on a family to take down a roadside memorial to an 18-year-old boy killed in a crash five years ago got part of his or her wish.
The blue cross the writer found offensive is now mostly obscured by flowers placed Sunday by those who support Dylan Coen’s surviving family. At the same time, the letter writer was being excoriated on social media.
Dylan’s mother Tricia Coffman said she opened the letter Saturday night and was devastated as were her family members.
“I just started shaking and crying. It was a horrible letter,’’ she said Sunday. “I cried myself to sleep last night.”
The letter, to Coffman and Dylan’s paternal grandmother, Betty Coen, came unsigned and with no returned address. It read:
“It is unfortunate you lost your son and grandson. The residents who live off Harry Driggers Boulevard have lost loved ones just like you.
"You burden us with your make-shift memorial in our backyard. It is down right despicable to remember your loved one this way.
"If you can’t afford a proper memorial in a proper place then go on the Internet and set up a “go-fund-me” page and ask for donations.
It has been five years....get on with your life. We are tired of sharing your pain.”
It purports to be from “Residents/Harry Driggers Boulevard.”
If the writer is tired of sharing Dylan’s family’s pain, he or she certainly created more anguish for them but also prompted a new outpouring of sympathy.
The memorial is not makeshift although the original was.
“We never put that up there,’’ Coffman said of the first memorial. “His friends put a cross up there the day he died.”
That was on Feb. 16, 2014, a Sunday night, when Dylan lost control of his pickup truck and it rolled into some trees on the east shoulder of Harry Driggers. He died at the scene, the Georgia State Patrol said in its report.
It was a rickety, hastily placed cross with some mementos and messages. Glynn County told the family, tastefully, a few years ago it was in the way of the mowers that maintain the right-of-way, Coffman said.
Dylan’s father and her former husband, J.R. Coen, made a sturdy cross of 4-by-4’s that stand about 3 ½ feet tall. The county said the location is fine and out of the way of maintenance equipment. The family and friends keep the area around it mowed and clean.
It is painted in the Brunswick High school colors. The cross is royal blue and has gold letters with his name and 1995 – 2014, the years of his birth and death. It is topped by a baseball mitt and, as of Sunday, irises, daffodils, carnations, roses and other fresh flowers were leaning against it.
The cross is relatively unobtrusive, sitting in the trees at the foot of the scarred water oak where Dylan’s truck came to rest.
Monday morning as the sun rose, a baseball-shaped helium balloon floated beside it and there was new metal sign. It reads: God bless Dylan and his family. May this memorial forever stand as a symbol of a community’s love for a special kid.”
On the back the sign says, “Humble and heartfelt support. This sign installed by the Lodise family. Call us if you have a problem.”
Dylan’s friends says he was universally liked, seemed incapable of anger and dearly loved his mother and sister. He played baseball and was a fan of Duke basketball.
Dylan’s family received a lot of support upon his death. Because he was a member of a small church, his memorial service was held at St. Simons Community Church. The church seats over 1,000 and was packed.
As for suitable memorials, he has a baseball field named for him and Marshside Grill, where he worked, has picture of him on its fireplace.
The weekend support came after Coffman rethought her reaction to the letter.
“I crumpled it up. I crunched the envelop and everything,’’ she said.
Then she flattened it and took a picture of it. She sent the photo to Dylan's sister, Ashley Rushing, who posted it on Facebook. Thousands have expressed support for the family and, in a number of cases, contempt for the letter-writer.
Rushing, whom Coffman said was hurt deeply, believes the writer was cowardly.
“If someone has an issue, contact the family,’’ in person, she said. “I’m sorry the loss of MY brother and best friend has burdened YOU so much.”
She also thanked supporters saying, “Y’all have made a bad day so much better.”
Some of the comments can’t be printed, but some found the letter incredulous.
“That’s terrible,’’ someone said on Facebook. “I can’t believe that’s for real.”
One person posted, “What a bunch of jerks. Grief has no time limit and people handle it in different ways.”
Comments of support have been posted from local residents and others from as far away as the Bronx and Australia.
For her part, Coffman said the people along Harry Driggers are not a bunch of jerks and that many have reached out to her.
“There are thousands of people living out there,’’ most of whom are as dismayed by the letter as she is, Coffman said.
For now, the family will let Dylan’s cross stand where it is unless and until the county says it must be moved.
Interestingly, about a mile farther down the road there’s another memorial. It remembers Cam, another young man killed in a crash, and is right beside the road in full view. Several crosses and a heart are nailed to a utility pole with flowers beneath.