EDITORIAL: In wake of murder charges in Harley Lawrence's death, a difficult kind of peace

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Harley Lawrence. File

Suspicions have swirled around Berwick and rippled across the county, province and even the country since that chilly Wednesday morning six months ago when news of Harley Lawrence’s death broke.

According to the RCMP, the 62-year-old man who lived on the small town’s streets was murdered that October morning. There was a sense of relief in the town April 25 as news spread that two men had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Lawrence’s death.

But there’s another sense: one of horror that two local men stand accused of intentionally killing a vulnerable person on a downtown sidewalk. Despite the rumours of wrong doing, there was a temptation for some to think his death a tragic accident; holding on to a hope that no one could commit such a despicable, deliberate crime.

There will be other feelings as the case proceeds through the court system: perhaps satisfaction, perhaps anger, perhaps frustration and most certainly sadness.

For whatever Harley’s life and death meant to Berwick and to those of who remembered him and marked his passing by attending a vigil, a funeral or donating to the costs of his burial and headstone, it certainly meant more to his family who mourn his loss.

“I know lots of people feel invested (in this case)," Open Arms pastor John Andrew said April 25, but “the family carries a weight that is much larger.”

He said the charges brought “a strange kind of peace.”

Should the police allegations be proven in court, it will be a hard thing to heal from and no victory of justice will return Harley to his family.

Yet, the family, police, town officials and pastor spoke of healing, of justice and of patience as the charges were announced.

Patience will be certainly necessary. Seeking answers through court proceedings is usually a slow, plodding quest. It may be years before more is known about how – and why – Lawrence died. 

Let us hope that answers are forthcoming and, as Andrew said, that this alleged violence is “an anomaly” and not a reflection of the community.

After the press conference late last week, Mayor Don Clarke said he thought something positive had come from what has been a painful chapter in Berwick’s history. Community meetings have been held, involving residents ranging from schoolchildren to seniors, and Clarke said the process has been “cathartic” for many.

Catharsis is not, however, something a person struggling with poverty, homelessness or mental illness can hold on to.

One thing that is tangible is a renewed support for Open Arms in Berwick. Andrew said he hopes the organization will be able to offer its services to those in need from a permanent location by this fall.

The case of Harley Lawrence will be a difficult one to watch, but knowing there are those who give their time to offer assistance and kindness to even those who rebuff a helping hand is some comfort when facing the specter of extreme cruelty.

Organizations: RCMP, Open Arms

Geographic location: Berwick

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