Dustin Turner never resurfaced after going under while swimming with six friends near the 4100 block of Old Bluff Church Road in Godwin Tuesday afternoon.
On Thursday, Turner's body was found floating in the middle of the river just before 2 p.m. about a mile from the site of the swimming accident.
It is the same day the 18-year-old Cape Fear High School student was supposed to graduate. At the graduation ceremony, Turner's seat was saved, marked with a bouquet of gold and blue ribbons, the Cape Fear High School colors.
Principal Lee Spruill told graduates to honor Turner by accepting their diplomas with the firm handshake and smile Turner was known for. Dustin Shawn Turner's name was called followed by long pause before graduates continued to walk across the stage.
In his speech "Hardships", salutatorian Richard Starling noted the dates of the deaths of three students this year from the school, all since Spring Break.
Family members told ABC11 that Turner was a good swimmer, but not a match for the notoriously dangerous river.
"These little teenagers love this area and most of them see no harm in it," Turner's aunt, Regina Turner told ABC11 in an interview Wednesday. "Doesn't matter how much you tell them, they have to see it to believe it. And they love that river."