A day that began full of sunshine and children’s laughter on the Pee Dee River turned to tragedy by evening when a Rockingham man was swimming with his family and friends.
Matthew Callahan, 26, of Rockingham, drowned on the Pee Dee River on Memorial Day. Family and friends said Callahan had been helping his best friend’s children return to the river bank after they had jumped from the rope swing on the Richmond County side of the river.
“We were swimming, eating watermelon and playing with the kids,” said Yvonne Callahan, Matthew’s mother. She and her husband joined Matthew and his friend Crystal Hill at the river. Hill brought her two young children. “It was just a day with the kids. We love the outdoors and we love to swim at the river. There was no alcohol.”
The group got to the river around 2 p.m. but Yvonne Callahan and her husband left to head home around 5 p.m. from the Anson County side. Behind them were Matthew, Hill and the kids, who were heading to the rope swing on the Richmond County side. By then, Matthew’s group was joined by his sister Tammy Honeycutt and her two children.
“He didn’t really want to stay at the river but he stayed because my kids were there,” said Honeycutt. “Matthew was treading water while the kids were jumping off the rope. He was trying to get everyone back to the bank. They were all coming back (to the bank) together when Crystal met him halfway to get her little girl because Matt was tired.”
According to Honeycutt, Hill saw Matthew having a hard time and asked twice if he was OK but heard no response. Then she saw him go under the water and went after him. She tried to find him but couldn’t and immediately headed to the bank and called 9-1-1.
“They were there very soon,” said Honeycutt about the rescue squads.
“We hadn’t even gotten to the highway when I saw the rescue coming up Highway 74,” said Yvonne. “My husband said, someone has drowned at the river, call (Crystal). I never would have thought it was my child. He swam like a fish. He was an outdoors person and grew up fishing, camping and hunting.”
Yvonne and her husband turned the car around and headed back down to the river to meet up with their family.
Yvonne and Honeycutt agreed that of all the Callahan boys, Matthew was quiet and responsible, and always tried to be helpful. Honeycutt was the eldest of four siblings, and Matthew was the second youngest brother.
“He was level-headed and sensible,” said Yvonne. “He was seeing to it that those kids got out of the water.”
Honeycutt said the rescue response was phenomenal.
“They were very diligent, a whole bunch of rescue people,” said Honeycutt. “We stayed the whole time until he was found.”
His body was recovered around 11 p.m. Monday, according to the Anson County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies had arrived at the scene near the NC Wildlife public boat landing at about 7 p.m.
A memorial service will be held for Matthew Callahan on Friday.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.