The first time Jennifer Gaudet saw Harley Lawrence, widely known as Berwick’s homeless man, may be the last time anyone saw him alive.
Harley Lawrence, widely known as Berwick’s homeless man, died in a suspicious fire.
People in Berwick believe the 62-year-old man that died in an overnight fire Oct. 23 in a downtown bus shelter was Lawrence, who had been living on Berwick streets since the spring. Gaudet shares the same concern, despite the fact that RCMP have yet to identify the victim of the fire.
Gaudet was in Berwick for a hockey game on the evening of Oct. 22. When she dropped into the local Tim Hortons about 10 p.m., she saw a man huddled on the sidewalk between the coffee shop and the bank.
“I had heard about Berwick’s homeless man very recently and wondered, ‘is that him?”
After confirming with Tim Hortons staff that Lawrence was living on the streets, she purchased him a hot chocolate.
“I just had this overwhelming feeling that I should do this for him. But when I came out, he was gone,” said Gaudet.
She saw Lawrence heading north on Commercial in the rain and followed him to the Kings Transit shelter, where he was settling in for the night and laying down on a cardboard mat upon her arrival.
“I offered him the hot chocolate, he asked what was in it, then accepted it with thanks.”
Gaudet said she wasn’t afraid and didn’t feel threatened in any way despite the fact the night was dark and no one else was out on the street at the time.
When she left Lawrence, it was 10:15 p.m. Little more than eight hours later, she learned of the fire and death in Berwick and of the community’s belief that Lawrence was the victim.
“It was such a gut-wrenching feeling to think I may have been the last person to talk to him or offer him a kindness.”
Gaudet immediately contacted RCMP and was interviewed by them at 11 a.m. that morning. She recounted her previous night’s interaction with Lawrence to members of the Valley’s major crime unit, answering their questions about his dental features and whether or not she witnessed him smoking.
“I told them I didn’t see him smoking,” she said. “They said the fire was intense, perhaps that is why they were asking about his teeth, to make an identification through dental records.”
She said the RCMP did not imply the victim was Lawrence, but they discussed the man’s living conditions with Gaudet and the fact that they had a line on his next of kin, living in British Columbia.
“I guess if it turns out to be him, they know where his family is.”
On Oct. 24, Gaudet was still shaken by her encounter with Lawrence and saddened that many efforts to help him were unsuccessful.
“It is so terribly sad. I can still see his face looking up at me. When I left him, something felt not right and I just couldn’t shake this bad feeling. “