Harley Lawrence

Locals say this is the man who died in the Berwick fire Wednesday. This photo was taken Oct. 16, 2013. (Courtesy of Debbie Saltzman)

Hundreds of people attended Saturday night's candlelight vigil for 62-year-old Harley Lawrence — a homeless man who died in a burning bus shelter in Berwick, N.S., this week.

Pastor John Andrew was hoping people would ignore the rumours surrounding the case and try to focus on Lawrence himself.

“It’s really about beginning the healing. This was a horrific death that has really rattled the town. There’s lots of speculation and rumours surrounding it. We’re going to push that all aside tonight and try to honour Harley Lawrence as a human being,” he said.

Lawrence's family was in attendance.

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.

Chaplain John Andrew, who knew Lawrence, told those gathered that the 62-year-old man's life touched many people as he sat in front of local restaurants with a cup for coins and a bag of old clothes.

"Through Harley, may our hearts go out to those who have struggled to fit into society," said Andrew, who runs the Open Arms Shelter in nearby Kentville.

"Whether they are homeless or among those who suffer in silence with forced smiles. In Harley, may we see our own frailty and know more deeply we're all essentially the same."

'He made the streets his home. It took a man of intelligence to survive these cold winters and storms we have here in the Maritimes.'- Friend Kelly Grant

His friend Kelly Grant, 49, of Berwick, used to bring him food and said she is struggling to cope with his loss.

"He was pleasant and light-hearted," said Grant, who organized the event called "Soar High Harley."

"He made the streets his home. It took a man of intelligence to survive these cold winters and storms we have here in the Maritimes."

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.

The vigil began at 9 p.m. Saturday in the Foodland Parking lot close to where Lawrence was found dead.

With files from The Canadian Press