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RCMP remain on the scene of an overnight death on Berwick's main thoroughfare Oct. 23.
A 62-year-old man died in a Berwick bus shelter Oct. 23 and police say the death is suspicious, but residents should not be concerned.
Shortly after 2 a.m., Kings District RCMP and Berwick and District firefighters responded to a 911 call about a fire on the town’s Commercial Street. When they arrived at the scene, the body of a man was found in the Kings Transit shelter on the sidewalk in front of Foodland.
“We put out a small fire,” confirmed fire Chief Laurie Saunders, adding firefighters wrapped up their work quickly, but remained on the scene until 4:30 a.m.
“Berwick is a safe community,” RCMP spokesman Sgt. Alain LeBlanc said later in the morning. However, police are treating the death as suspicious and an investigation is ongoing. RCMP, including the Southwest Nova Major Crime Unit’s forensic team, were at the scene most of the day and the area was closed to vehicles and pedestrians.
Berwick’s Mayor Don Clarke and Open Arms Ministry chaplain John Andrews both said they are concerned the victim was a homeless man who had been living in the area. When approached last week, the homeless man would not give his name or speak to a reporter.
Andrews said the man had spent some time at the shelter operated by Open Arms, but was resistant to efforts to reach out to him.
“His mental state was not good, he was often paranoid and wasn’t willing to participate (in our program).”
Local residents, churches and community support organizations in Berwick also tried to intervene to provide support to the man, Andrews added, but their efforts were largely rebuffed.
“This is going to be hard for the community to handle,” he said.
Clarke said he is deeply disturbed by unconfirmed reports about the man’s identity.
“Despite all the efforts made on this man’s behalf, nobody could help,” Clarke said. “It just proves that despite a good social services system people can fall through the cracks.”
The mayor said the vast number of calls he received about the man’s continued presence in town were from people concerned about his welfare.
“We all worried about him and nobody in this little town believed that the man couldn’t be helped.”
LeBlanc would not confirm the man’s identity.
“Before any information like that is released the next of kin will need to be contacted first,” said LeBlanc, citing the process is standard in any investigation of a sudden or suspicious death. While he would not confirm whether the dead man was a resident of Berwick or a transient individual, he inferred the circumstances could make the process challenging.
“It may be some time before we have that information.”
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, LeBlanc said there had been no arrests in the case. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday morning to determine the exact cause of death. Commercial Street and local businesses were expected to reopen late in the afternoon.