BERWICK, N.S. - A few hundred people gathered Saturday night for a candlelight ceremony in a small Nova Scotia community where a homeless man died Wednesday in a horrific fire inside the bus shelter where he slept.
The candlelight vigil for Harley Gordon Lawrence was held outside the grocery store in Berwick — a town of about 2,500 people in the Annapolis Valley where the homeless man spent his last months.
The ceremony started with prayers as candles flickered in the background.
Chaplain John Andrew, who knew Lawrence, told those gathered that the 62-year-old man's life touched many people.
"May our hearts go out to those who struggled to fit into society," Andrew said.
Some local residents are struggling with haunting memories of the night Lawrence died.
His friend Kelly Grant, 49, of Berwick, said she used to bring him food and said she is struggling to cope with his loss.
"He was pleasant and light hearted," she recalled.
Shannon Taylor, a woman who was delivering newspapers early Wednesday morning, says she saw two young men hurrying toward the site with a container of gasoline about 10 minutes before the blaze began.
At first, she said she believed the scene was a pile of burning leaves, but she then realized the man she'd passed many evenings was on fire.
She said firefighters arrived soon after and put out the blaze, but weren't able to save the man who had become a fixture in the small community in the spring.
She says firefighters arrived soon after and put out the blaze, but they weren't able to save the man who had become a fixture in the small community in the spring.
She recalled Lawrence had often seen sitting outside the local Tim Hortons or wandering down the street with his belongings in a large plastic bag.
Taylor said about 10 minutes before the blaze, she saw two young men, possibly in their late teens or early 20s, fill a small jug with gas at another station near the shelter. She said it looked like one used for windshield washer fluid.
She said she told police one of the young men pumped the gas, the other paid for it and they then ran off quickly in the direction of the shelter.
Police have deemed Lawrence's death suspicious, and the medical examiner's office has requested further information. But the RCMP have said they won't comment on the accounts while the investigation continues.
People in the community have reacted with dismay and shock at reports that Lawrence may have been the victim of a homicide.
Andrew has said it would increase the deepening sadness in a small community already struggling with the death.
If the case is a homicide, then the town faces a "double tragedy," said Andrew, who runs the Open Arms emergency shelter in nearby Kentville.
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