Nova Scotia RCMP are investigating a suspicious fire in Berwick and local residents have told CBC News a homeless man died in the fire on Wednesday morning.
Police say the fire broke out on Commercial Street around 2 a.m. in a bus shelter near Foodland. The shelter was covered in tarps Wednesday morning, but charred remains were visible.
"RCMP found a 62-year-old man deceased," said Sgt. Alain LeBlanc.
They are treating the death as suspicious.
Police haven't identified the man, but the CBC's Angela MacIvor says 20 people she's talked to in the town say it's the homeless man at the centre of a public discussion about homelessness in rural areas.
He's been living in the town for the last few months and people say he slept in the bus shelter every night. He called himself Harley Lawrence.
Andra Gaudet regularly bought the man coffee.
“Usually when people come to this area and they see something that’s different or something that’s new, sometimes they have a hard time understanding it and fear kicks in, instead of taking the time to get to know the person," she said.
"I think he was really misunderstood.”
John Andrew said he first met Lawrence eight years ago through his anti-poverty work. He said it was hard to get the man to share his story, even his name.
“We had requirements for personal information to be given for admission into the shelter and he refused that. So we eased off on him. We found ourselves, even at the time, unable to move him forward. He wasn’t willing to co-operate with Community Services or any of those agencies that would otherwise be helpful by giving personal information," he said.
"That was something that really freaked him out.
Walter Dodge said he had talked to Lawrence the night before he died.
“He just wanted to survive, you know?”
“He asked me last night if I’d go to the Baptist Church this Sunday morning with him.... I said, ‘Ok, we’ll go to church this Sunday. I haven’t been to church in a long time. I’ll do that," said Dodge.
"I’m still going to go to that church.”
Search team hunting for evidence
The RCMP cordoned off a section of Commercial Street and a ground search and rescue team was brought in to comb the area. Commercial Street was reopened shortly before 6 p.m.
The ground search and rescue team is looking for evidence that could be used in a possible criminal investigation.
A dozen businesses in the area are closed. Officers are telling people who work in the area to stay home.