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Harley Lawrence to be remembered decade after Berwick bus shelter murder

A photo of Harley Lawrence taken in October 2013 just days before he was murdered. (Debbie Saltzman - image credit)
A photo of Harley Lawrence taken in October 2013 just days before he was murdered. (Debbie Saltzman - image credit)

A decade after his murder, family and friends of Harley Lawrence are remembering the man who was always willing to lend a hand.

Lawrence, a homeless man in Berwick, N.S., was sleeping in a bus shelter when he was murdered on Oct 23, 2013. The two men who admitted to killing Lawrence by setting him on fire were sentenced to life in prison  in 2015 with no chance of parole for 18 and 20 years.

"The biggest thing I think I want people to remember is … what happened to him." said Ron Lawrence, Harley's younger brother.

There will be a brief gathering open to the public at the Riverbank Cemetery in Hantsport at 2 p.m. on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary. Lawrence grew up in the community.

Ron Lawrence describes his brother as someone who enjoyed lending a hand to those in need, but not without struggles with homelessness and mental illness.

"This homeless thing is getting bigger and badder," said Lawrence.

He believes the best solutions will come from people like his deceased brother — who had first-hand experience.

'Unique presence in Berwick'

Michelle Parker lived in Berwick at the time of Lawrence's murder. She knew him as a friendly face outside Tim Hortons and through her work as the senior safety co-ordinator with Kings County.

"Harley was a unique presence in Berwick at the time," Parker said. "He was the only visible homeless gentleman living in the town and so a lot of people knew who he was."

Parker is now the executive director with Open Arms Resource Centre in Kentville, which offered services to Lawrence. She said Open Arms has expanded to offer year-round emergency shelter compared to a program limited to colder months 10 years ago.

"I hope we are becoming a world today that would have been more accepting of Harley and would have been able to meet his needs," Parker said.

Parker said community members would support Lawrence with food and conversation, but not everyone was receptive to the beginning of a homeless population in Berwick.

"I think Harley was a catalyst for conversation in our community," Parker said.

Remembering the volunteer 

Brian Bishop, a member of the Riverside Cemetery committee and Hantsport Historical Society, said Lawrence was committed to giving back in Hantsport, where he started out in life and later lived rough from 2011 to 2012. He said Lawrence volunteered at a local church, food bank and the cemetery where he is now buried.

"He never once, ever, asked us for a handout, but we of course we're always looking for ways that we could try to support him," Bishop said.

Bishop said a weathered plaque at the base of a tree planted in Lawrence's memory will also be replaced.

"Our focus is going to be on Harley the volunteer, and the contributions that he made to his home community," he said.

Ron Lawrence told reporters his brother, Harley Lawrence, had hopes and dreams like everyone else and didn't deserve to go the way he did.
Ron Lawrence told reporters his brother, Harley Lawrence, had hopes and dreams like everyone else and didn't deserve to go the way he did.

Ron Lawrence said the murder of his brother 10 years ago has taken a toll on the family. (CBC)

Ron Lawrence is appreciative of the community's commitment to his brother's memory.

"I could be here for hours telling you how many people donated to Harley," he said. "The headstones and everything."

He said the murder has taken a toll on the family. Four of his other siblings have also died since his brother's death and he attributes some of his own health issues to the stress of the murder trial.

"It's just been a long 10 years," he said.

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