The family of 62-year-old Harley Lawrence — a homeless man who died in a burning bus shelter in Berwick, N.S., this week — wants those responsible for his death brought to justice.
Lawrence's niece, Beth Burke, was at a vigil held in her uncle's memory in Berwick, N.S., on Saturday night.
“I didn’t know what to say or think, how anyone could be so cruel. No matter if he was homeless or not, he was still my uncle, he’s still my family,” she said.
“I hope that we can find peace, once those people, whoever did this cruel thing are [caught]. I hope justice can be served.”
More than 400 people showed up to the vigil held a short distance from where Lawrence died.
Lawrence was a homeless man who'd been living on the streets of Berwick — a town of about 2,500 people in the Annapolis Valley — for about six months.
He died Wednesday morning after the bus shelter he was sleeping in caught fire.
Police are treating Lawrence’s death as suspicious and are awaiting autopsy results.
Some eyewitnesses to the fire said they saw two young men fill jugs with gasoline and move towards the shelter before the fire. Police say they have no comment on the witness reports.
“It’s not like he was sick. They deliberately did it. It’s horrible. There’s sick people out there, that’s all I can say," Burke said.
Verna Mae Wheaton arrived at the vigil several hours before it started. She knew Lawrence. She said she brought him coffee and food when he arrived in Berwick in the summer.
But Wheaton said not everyone was so friendly.
"He told me … there were people, kids, that were poking needles in him. Yes, poking him with needles, to keep moving him around. He never did no harm to nobody ... and I don't know why that this ever, ever had to happen," she said.
Meanwhile, Lawrence's niece said the outpouring of support from the community since her uncle's tragic death has been touching.
“It’s just beautiful to see Berwick coming together and treating my uncle like he was a person and not a homeless man. I mean the people that helped him with food and gave him blankets and stuff, and coffees — I really appreciate it ... from the bottom of my heart," said Burke.
“He was a proud man, he didn’t want help from nobody, not even his family.”