BERWICK - People in the small, rural community of Berwick are organizing a memorial for a homeless man they believe was killed in a fire at a bus stop that served as his nighttime shelter.
© TC Media photo
RCMP at the scene of a suspicious death in Berwick.
Chaplain John Andrew said Wednesday that he was planning a candlelight vigil for the 62-year-old man, who he says had been living on the streets of the town since the spring.
Police could not confirm the identity of the remains found early Wednesday in the burned out bus shelter on Berwick’s main street after they were called to the scene at about 2 a.m.
RCMP Sgt. Al LeBlanc said an autopsy was being performed Thursday to determine the cause of death and that officers were still trying to notify the victim’s next of kin so they could identify him.
Despite that, Andrew said he’s convinced it was the homeless man.
“Police have not announced officially that’s who it is, but I would say I am 100 per cent certain,” said Andrew, who met the man in 2005 through the Open Arms emergency shelter in Kentville, about 20 kilometres away.
“He’s nowhere to be found and it happened to be in a place where he was known to sleep.”
Andrew, who is the managing director of the shelter, said the man had been living in various locations throughout the Annapolis Valley over the years and would find a “perch” in a community, where he would sometimes panhandle while keeping people at a distance.
Andrew said he couldn’t be certain of the man’s name, but he knew him as Harley Lawrence based on information from family members who looked for him a year or so ago. He said the man had lived in a ravine and the garage of one of the emergency shelter’s board members, but refused most offers of help.
LeBlanc had few details about the man, but says police are treating the death as suspicious because it was sudden and it wasn’t clear how the fire started.
A section of the area on Commercial Street where the bus shelter was located had been shut down for the day.
Berwick Mayor Don Clarke said the community had struggled with the man’s presence on the streets, with many calling for his removal or finding ways to help him.
But he said the feeling was much different Wednesday.
“The mood in the town today is one of pretty deep sadness,” he said. “It’s almost a sense of loss. … This man seems to have fallen through the cracks.”
Andrew said his group was waiting for more information from police, but planned to hold the vigil in the centre of Berwick on Saturday.
- The Canadian Press