MINT HILL, N.C. (WBTV) - For John and Nancy McWhirter, there is no item more sentimental than their son Shawn’s high school ring.
“It has a lot of memory,” John McWhirter says, as he becomes emotional.
“It means a lot, because as long as he had it and was wearing it, we felt complete,” his wife Nancy adds.
Shawn died 20 years ago, when he was just 20 years old.
“We enjoyed him the 20 years that we had him,” John says.
John has worn his son’s 1997 class ring since, to remember him.
“It’s something I can hang onto, and continue thinking of him, and the good times that we had,” he says.
He has had it, until weeks ago at the beach, when a big wave knocked him over and tossed the ring into the waves.
“I grabbed a handful of sand and I thought I had the ring in my hand,” he says. “And when I came up, it was a sea shell.”
Heartbroken, he assumed it was gone.
“My son loved the beach,” John says. “So, I said, ‘That’s one way of losing his ring, somewhere that he loved.’”
He could not have known that soon, a 9-year-old little girl would convince her mom to visit the ocean on a foggy, grey day.
“She dug a hole about four inches deep, she came up, went and rinsed it off, ‘Look oh my goodness what I found!’” Amanda Beal says of her daughter Cheyenne.
A post to social media, thousands of shares and help from the community led to a priceless moment between the two families – a reunion unlike any other.
“I feel like we’re connected for life a little bit, you know?” Beal says.
“I never thought I’d see it again,” McWhirter says, smiling as he holds up his left hand. “I’m glad I got it.”
Next week will be the 20-year anniversary of Shawn McWhirter’s death.