Norfolk teen turns tragedy into opportunity to honor and comfort


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Most of us know Eagle Scouts are considered an elite group of citizens and volunteers. Locally, we have a boy who has almost reached his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout. In the process, he accomplished some pretty adult projects that have made a big difference for a number of families.

The motivation of Jacob Copeland stems from a tragedy that happened roughly 37 years before the 14-year-old was even born.

“Johnny didn’t get to fulfill the legacy of being an Eagle,” Jacob said.

Jacob is referring to Johnny Hill, a teenager who died in a fire along with four other friends. Decades after the tragedy, Johnny remained laid at rest in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk with no headstone — until Jacob got involved.

“Everybody was hesitant to do it because it cost so much money to get a stone,” Jacob said.

Jacob worked with John Dill, who oversees cemeteries in Norfolk. Dill just happened to find a damaged stone.

“They remade it and put Johnny’s name on it,” Jacob said.

The day of the unveiling in November of 2019, was there for a reunion years in the making.

“The families came out, that haven’t seen each other, which is pretty awesome, since it all happened,” Jacob said.

Jacob hopes he gave Johnny closure, from one aspiring Eagle Scout to another.

But Jacob’s story of giving doesn’t end here.

“It was never enough for him. The stone wasn’t enough,” Dill said of Jacob’s determination.

Jacob learned there were not enough flags to cover all of the veterans’ graves in Norfolk for Veteran’s Day. So, he wrote letters asking for flag donations.

“Two flag companies donated 600 flags for the veterans’ lot,” Jacob said.

“It’s the first time that every veteran in our veterans’ sections had flags… I thought that would be enough, and then he came back. He wanted to do something else,” Dill said.

Jacob focused on the children’s section of the cemetery.

“My family members donated money and we made benches, and the benches were for people that wanted to sit down with their lost members on the child’s lot.”

A place to rest their weary hearts, courtesy of a boy with a heart of gold.

“You can make a change in your environment. It can help. Something little can go a long way.”

Jacob’s family says he could become an Eagle Scout in a matter of weeks.

In the meantime, if you know of a child who is making a change in the community, send Katie Collett an email, or send her a message on her Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts.

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