Lawrence died in bus shelter fire last October
© Kathryn Brewster - TC Media
Cecilia Salsman, left, and Janet Bennett wait in Berwick’s new bus shelter, which was recently replaced on the site of the original shelter. The two women say they are pleased that arrests have been made in Harley Lawrence’s death.
Updated: 4:36 p.m.
BERWICK - The pastor of Open Arms is hoping the Lawrence family will have some closure after two people were arrested April 25 in relation to Harley Lawrence’s death.
The 62-year-old homeless man died in a bus shelter fire on Berwick's Commercial Street six months ago. The RCMP announced in a press release April 25 that two people had been arrested overnight in relation to the ongoing investigation into Lawrence’s Oct. 23, 2013 death. One person was arrested in Berwick around midnight, while the other was arrested in Sackville at 1:20 a.m.
“What a breakthrough that would be for the family. Justice is important, but I think healing is more important,” said John Andrew, who knew Lawrence well through his work with Open Arms, a Kentville-based street ministry and resource centre for the homeless.
“I know lots of people feel invested (in the case),” Andrew said, but “the family carries a weight that is much larger.”
The names, ages and genders of the people been arrested have not been released. Sgt. Alain LeBlanc, provincial RCMP spokesman said “more information would follow,” but wouldn’t speculate on when that might happen.
“All I can say is the suspects are currently being questioned by the RCMP’s South West Nova Major Crimes Unit,” he said.
“At this time I can’t provide more information.”
LeBlanc added it would be “premature” to release any other details about the investigation.
Andrew urged area residents to wait for those details to come.
“I think what’s really important is that people don’t jump to conclusions,” he said.
“I don’t know if there is anything there to take seriously until there is a charge.”
Berwick Mayor Don Clarke welcomed the news of the arrests.
“I think all residents of Berwick will be pleased to see something happening (in the case),” said Clarke.
“We have been quite patient, but I think some people have been running out of patience lately, so these arrests are a good thing.”
Clarke said he is anxiously awaiting the release of more information about the case, like everyone else in town.
“We all want to see this proceed,” Clarke said.
Berwick residents relieved
The atmosphere in Berwick was one of relief as the news spread that two arrests had been made in connection Lawrence’s death, which had been ruled as suspicious and had left the community rattled.
“It’ll be a big relief to a lot of people because the streets of Berwick are not the same at night since it happened,” says Stanley Viner.
He learned the news early in the day and made his way to the local Tim Hortons in the hopes that he might pick up some additional information. Since Lawrence’s death, the streets after dark have been “like a ghost town,” Viner said.
Janet Bennett and Cecilia Salsman heard the news on the radio. Both women were surprised, but pleased, to learn arrests had been made.
“He didn’t bother nobody; he was kind,” said Bennett as she waited in the town’s new bus shelter, recently put in place at the site of the one destroyed in the October fire. Bennett had worked with Lawrence’s brother and, like many residents in the community, had seen Lawrence on Commercial Street on multiple occasions.
Although months have passed since Lawrence’s death, residents of Berwick had not forgotten him, nor had they stopped wondering when closure would be found.
“We were talking about (Lawrence) the other day,” said Bev Hazelwood. “We used to give him money just about every time we came in (to Tim Hortons).”
Hazelwood had not heard about the arrests, but was pleased by the news.
“We were wondering when they’d get around to finding out (who did it),” added Salsman.