Crossfire was ‘no reason to die’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2007

FRANKLIN—Harley Bethea was probably hit before he even had a chance to understand what was happening.

Coming home from the Hi-Lo Market with headphones on late Monday night the 21-year-old unwittingly walked into the line of fire of a man with a gun, police said.

By 11:50 p.m., Harley lay dying in the street, with sister Addie holding his hand, watching him struggle to take his last breaths. He died at the corner of Mariner Street and Delk Street, just two doors from his home.

&uot;He fell at a stop sign,&uot; his mother, Karen Bethea, cried during an interview in the small duplex she shared with her son and daughter. &uot;There’s a message in that. Stop this violence. Stop it.&uot;

&uot;This needs to be the end of all that commotion in Franklin, all the violence,&uot; added 20-year-old Addie. &uot;This one innocent death.&uot;

Police say that Harley was &uot;a victim of some senseless violence,&uot; noting that he was not the target of the shooting. They have arrested 22-year-old Darris Thomas of South Street on murder and other

charges. Lieutenant T.W. Whitt said Thursday that police are still not sure why Thomas was firing a gun in the neighborhood.

The small community near South Street has pulled together to support the family since Harley’s death, according to his mother and sister. Friends and strangers alike turned out for vigils Tuesday and Wednesday, and a gospel concert was planned for the Mariner Road dead end just past the Betheas’ home Thursday evening. People have stopped in to offer their condolences, and some have left balloons and flowers at the stop sign where he died.

Whitt said that community support was instrumental in Thomas’ arrest Tuesday afternoon. &uot;I think people are just really sick and tired of the violence. We’ve talked to a number of people who have helped us out. This guy had no reason to die. Everybody loved him.&uot;

&uot;Harley got along with everybody,&uot; Addie said. &uot;He didn’t want nobody to be mad at him. Everywhere my brother went, everybody loved my brother. He tried to make friends with everybody.&uot;

Harley’s family described him as mildly mentally retarded, with about a fourth-grade reading level. Despite his handicap, though, he loved to work on electronics and was the handyman around the house.

He had friends and played Playstation games, but he especially loved to dance, friends said.

&uot;He’d put a smile on your face on a miserable day,&uot; Karen Bethea said.

His sister remembered that he liked to talk about God and that he shared his faith with other kids in the community. &uot;He could talk about God all day long. He knew God.&uot;

She and her brother had an especially close relationship because of time they spent — together and apart — in foster care.

&uot;Me and my brother have been through a lot together,&uot; she said. &uot;We didn’t have an easy life.&uot; And the family had been split up for significant periods.

The two were together with foster parents in Capron until 2003. He attended Southampton High School, and they both enjoyed riding horses on their foster parents’ property.

Then, they were split up, and he moved to Suffolk, where he attended Lakeland High School for about a year.

Last November, they moved to Franklin with their mother, and the family was reunited with the exception of another sister who lived with a separate foster family in Suffolk.

&uot;When we moved here, we started getting close again,&uot; Addie said. &uot;We started feeling like a family should.&uot;

Now she grieves over the fact that Harley will not be around to see his other sister re-join the family.

But she is thankful that &uot;God gave me one last good day with my brother&uot; on Saturday, when she and her boyfriend took Harley to the movies, to dinner and bowling. They also bought him a new pair of shoes.

Those were the shoes he was wearing when he was shot, when Addie heard a commotion on the street near their house and looked outside to see her brother lying in the street.

She ran to him, held his hand and screamed for help. He had taken his last labored breaths before police arrived. Rescue squad members pronounced him dead when they arrived on the scene.

During their time in foster care, Addie said, &uot;We promised to protect each other. In some ways I feel like I let him down.&uot;

She knows the feeling she shouldn’t blame herself, but she is finding it hard to make any sense of her brother’s death.

&uot;Every time I close my eyes, I see his face,&uot; she said. &uot;My brother cannot die in vain. If we can just bring a little change (to Franklin), make things a little different, it can go a long way.&uot;