In the days since a brutal murder was discovered at the Bobby Davis Park, community members have expressed concern about the incident, the homeless population, the Hope House Homeless Shelter and how the alleged perpetrator Anthony Ray Lewis was out on parole and no one in the area seemed to know.
“This is a problem we have to address,” Hazard City Commissioner Susan Brotherton said this week.. “We (the city) made (Hurt) available. They (the Hope House) made her available. No one did it intentionally. This guy slipped through the cracks. I don’t think anyone intentionally let him in.”
However, Brotherton expressed concern about the fact that Lewis was in the community.
“What bothers me the most is they let this man come in here,” said Brotherton, explaining that no one was aware that Lewis was out on bond for the Leslie County rape case.
“To me, a rapist doesn’t need to be in a shelter with females,” Brotherton said, stating it was too big of a risk to the community, pointing out the Hope House’s close location to schools and The Pavilion.
Brotherton, along with many other community members, have raised questions regarding the Hope House and their methods of intake for residents, as well as the increasing number of homeless people in Perry County, many of which are coming from other counties and even other states, said Brotherton. “Somehow we have to be a compassionate city, but we also have to protect our city,” she said.
Ben Fugate, the lead pastor of Journey Christian Church and president of the Hope House, said that although the situation is tragic for the community, he hopes that people do not misguidedly take action against the homeless population.
“There’s obviously a huge backlash over it,” said Fugate. “My biggest fear is that an entire population of the homeless community will be ostracized because of the actions of one man.”
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t take new precautions, because this is eye-opening to the world we live in, but at the same time not everyone with a backpack on is dangerous,” said Fugate. “Furthermore, not everyone you pass on the street is a resident of Hope House,” he said, explaining that the average number of residents in the shelter is around 20 residents, but the county’s overall homeless community is much larger.
According to a source who wishes to remain anonymous, Hope House staff and volunteers were unaware of Lewis’s past.
Law enforcement, they said, was even watching Lewis for the last two to three weeks, because of upcoming court appearance and no one was informed about it.
Fugate said that the Hope House staff is looking at ways to improve their intake process and be more informed about their residents.
“Right now the resources we have is the sex offender registry list,” said Fugate, stating they go through it and check every resident. Additionally, Fugate said when someone is transferred from another group or shelter, Hope House staff asks about the history of violence, as well as their criminal record.
Fugate said when the shelter was first opened, he was told background checks would take too long and cost too much for people needing shelter immediately, so they were unavailable to them. Fugate said that now, local law enforcement is offering free and fast background checks for the shelter.
Despite that, however, Fugate said there is no perfect method for detecting threats.
“At the end of the day, and this might not be great news, you can screen and vet all you want to but you never know what’s going on is someones head, every murderer murders for the first time at some point,” Fugate said. “If (Lewis) did murder before as they’re saying his record shows, was he staying in a homeless shelter then? Clearly he wasn’t. He didn’t need the shelter to make him capable of being a murderer. He already was.”
Tuesday night, the shelter closed due to threats against the facility and will remain closed for at least a few days. Fugate said the decision was made due to the nature of the speech, including one person saying they were going to “burn (the shelter) out of town.” Residents were transported to another shelter outside Perry County.
“We had a few threats come in and the police considering everything that happened over the weekend wanted to take them seriously, so we felt obligated to have some kind of plan and just to get everybody safe,” Fugate said. “I think they were able to track down where one of the threats came from but not the rest so it was just kind of too unpredictable, we knew that tensions were high but not this high.”
Hazard Deputy Police Chief James East said the HPD is investigating the threats.
“We’re currently investigating if there were any credible threats or if it’s just the stuff on Facebook,” East said Wednesday. “We’ve already talked to one individual.”
Editor’s note: Staff Writer Destiny Caldwell contributed to this report.