Three months ago, a man living on the streets of Berwick suffered a senseless death in an early morning bus shelter fire. Harley Lawrence’s Oct. 23 death rocked the community and broke through the public consciousness with issues about mental health and homelessness on a local, provincial and national level.
While police are being tight-lipped about the investigation into Lawrence’s death, the Town of Berwick wants to start a conversation about the circumstances that contributed to his homeless lifestyle and untimely passing and begin the healing for the community at large.
The discussion began Jan. 15 at Berwick and District School, where 13 youth gathered to confront some of the issues that surfaced after Lawrence’s death.
“They talked about what they learned,” said Julie Glaser, Berwick’s director of community development, the day after the session. She was impressed with students’ awareness about a variety of societal issues, their suggestions for dealing with them and willingness to continue the conversation with their peers.
On the policing side of the matter, the RCMP is not sharing much about the ongoing investigation. They understand the community remains rife with rumours about Lawrence’s demise, but cite protocol in protecting the investigation as it proceeds. An RCMP spokesperson recently offered assurances the investigation has not become a cold case and that leads are still being pursued. But until there are suspects named or arrests made, there will be no public discussion of the investigation.
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Waiting for such answers is hard for a small community that has little experience dealing with a tragedy of this magnitude. Residents of Berwick want and deserve answers about the incident that cost a man his life and left them shocked and fearful that the potential for such violence exists in their community.
Whether Lawrence’s death is ultimately deemed to be the result of criminal activity or accidental in nature, officials with the Town of Berwick deserve kudos for not being afraid to encourage public discussion of some very uncomfortable topics that linger months after the incident.