‘He was just trying to find a way’: Friends fondly recall homeless man killed in Harrisburg shooting

Billy Grier, 50, was homeless and struggling with an untreated mental illness.

He met an old friend over Christmas and said he finally got in touch with a social worker who would help him get treatment for his illness.

But Grier died before he could get the help he wanted.

Someone shot Grier on Monday as he stood among several other people outside a store on the corner of North Sixth and Woodbine streets, which he was known to visit every day. Prosecutors do not believe he was the intended target.

Harrisburg Police have charged Jhajuan Russaw, 18, of Susquehanna County, in connection with the fatal drive-by shooting. Police don’t believe Russaw knew Grier. They are still investigating a possible motive.

Many residents and workers in the area knew Grier to see him frequently in the neighborhood and said he was a good guy. He made money doing odd jobs for people in the community. He offered to clean the windows or help put air in the tires.

He occasionally picked up supplies or crashed overnight in Harrisburg shelters.

The memory of Grier’s smile lighting up his face has repeated itself in the mind of his childhood friend Kevin Dolphin since his death.

“He was one of the warmest and most caring people I have ever known,” Dolphin said.

The couple’s friendship was geographically destined – Dolphin grew up on Second and Seneca, and Grier was only a block from Green and Emerald.

Dolphin, Grier and another friend Anthony Burnett went to school together and played soccer, basketball and baseball. Dolphin said he and Grier also served prison time together.

READ MORE: Harrisburg police charge teenager in death of 50-year-old man outside convenience store

After his release, Dolphin was shocked to come face to face with a very different Grier than the one he knew before jail. Grier was homeless and had developed a mental disorder, Dolphin said.

“The prison does something to an individual. If they don’t have the right support system, it can push them to the limit.

It was sad to see him as he was, ”Dolphin said. “Billy didn’t grow up that way. Part of him being homeless was [because] he had a mental disorder and was not getting the proper treatment he needed.

Employees at Antonio’s Grocery remembered Grier as being friendly and never having a problem with anyone. Never one to take a handout, they said he would offer odd jobs in exchange for money. He came to Antonio’s every day, usually for a cup of coffee or a meal.

“He’s always been a happy person. He’s never been angry or anything to my knowledge, ”Burnett said. “I pray for him. I knew he was having a hard time with certain things.

Burnett said he last saw Grier about a month ago at a Maclay Street gas station. Grier told Burnett he was hungry and Burnett gave him money to buy food.

“He just seemed to be more or less a float, just walking around. Things changed for his life, but even then I always knew he was happy, ”said Burnett. “It just doesn’t make sense for someone to take someone’s life. I feel bad for it.

Harrisburg police said at least one bullet hit Grier, causing him to collapse on the sidewalk. When police arrived, they found him unconscious and without a pulse, according to court documents. A paramedic declared her dead at the scene.

“He was just trying to find a way,” Dolphin said. “He was a very nice person, even in the condition he was in.”

READ MORE: ‘He was a good guy’: homeless man who helped others killed in Harrisburg’s first homicide in 2021

Grier’s death marked the first homicide of 2021. There were 22 people killed by homicide in the city last year.

Dolphin firmly believes that Grier would not have stood around the corner where he lost his life had he received proper medical treatment.

“He was probably out there looking for something to eat or a place to stay,” Dolphin said. “If he had received the proper treatment, he would not have ended up this way. He wouldn’t have been in this corner.

Burnett, focusing on the gun violence that ended Grier’s life, said the community must take responsibility.

“If Billy wanted something with his situation, I think he would want the world to be a brighter place,” Burnett said. “[For] people to wake up and understand that life is a big thing. It’s not something you just throw away.

READ MORE: Stopping the Violence: Why Changing Harrisburg Gun Culture Won’t Come With A Quick Fix

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