On Sunday morning, January 20, while opening the doors of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library for a book sale, a homeless man brutally murdered Library Director Dr. Leroy Hommerding. On Monday, January 28, Mayor Tracey Gore and Town Manager Roger Hernstadt met with Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno to discuss Fort Myers Beach safety. Sheriff Marceno will attend the next Town Council meeting on Monday, February 4, to address this and answer questions from Council. His presentation will be at the start of the meeting in Town Hall at 9 a.m.
See Something, Say Something
“I do not want to speak for the Sheriff prior to his appearance,” said Mayor Gore, “but I believe he will stress that, as citizens, be aware of your surroundings, and if you see something, say something, because they cannot help us if they do not know what is going on. We had a resident at the last Council meeting tell us he was threatened by the homeless man accused of murdering Dr. Hommerding and he did not tell anyone and now he wishes he did. If you report anything suspicious, Sheriff Marceno assured us his office will take that seriously and respond quickly. Everyone knows I am a huge supporter of our police and military, and I trust the Sheriff’s Office, as I have known these people for years before I was ever on Council, and am comfortable with what they will propose.”
Mayor Gore explained that West District Commander Matt Herterick was out of town the weekend of Dr. Hommerding’s death, “so Sheriff Marceno directly responded. He stayed in touch with us all the time, and has been just amazing – he is a rock star! He is working directly with the Library staff to ensure their well-being and safety at this critical time. Locally, we are fortunate our Town Manager, Roger Hernstadt, has a great deal of experience with many towns and cities throughout his career, so he will work closely with Sheriff Marceno. This situation, however, is about more than just the homeless, but our overall safety on the island, and I can assure you from our conversations that Sheriff Marceno is not playing around but taking this seriously! I appreciate the resources they commit to Fort Myers Beach, including new observation towers he will discuss on February 4. As for tourists, the Sheriff will ensure those who visit behave themselves, because you cannot throw a rock on this island without hitting a residential home.”
Gore offers a unique perspective, as she is Mayor for one more month, then will revert to a private citizen, while being born and spending her entire life on Fort Myers Beach: “When I was young, I don’t recall homeless on the island. We had one older man who we all called ‘Jim the Can Man’ because he made his living off recycling cans, and my Dad and everyone after football games gave their beer cans to Jim! We were, however, never afraid to sit next to Jim on the trolley and, in his own way, he was contributing to the community and we actually loved him! As kids, we could play anywhere on the island and be safe, and everyone knew you and watched out for you. Sadly, not just Fort Myers Beach but the world changed, so by the time I became a Mom, we took our kids to the ballfields and personally watched over them. When we now encounter a homeless person, it no longer feels safe to interact with them or ask them to leave when you feel uncomfortable.”
A big concern for Gore is that “when new people move here or visit, they see these situations and think this is Fort Myers Beach but it is not! That is not to say you do not have to remain vigilant and call the Sheriff if you feel weird or encounter someone creepy, because when you feel that vibe, that vibe is normally right! As Mayor, I am very protective of our community, and you cannot be Mayor without being a Town citizen, so when my term ends next month, my involvement with the community will continue, because this Town is my family and you always take care of your family! I want people to be safe here, because nothing is as important, and while the Sheriff’s Office is essential, we must all work together to make this happen.”
Homeless & Houseless
“The situation goes deeper than the homeless, or the ‘houseless,’ as they sometimes prefer,” said Pastor John Adler of St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church at 5601 Williams Drive. “Several beach churches have and will continue to meet to address the situation, to tighten things up, as up to now we tended to work with the homeless in a laissez-faire arrangement and we need to firm that up, and we need the community’s help, as we cannot do it alone. That said, the ‘Ministerial Association of Fort Myers Beach’ is already meeting to improve conditions.”
Pastor John encouraged Fort Myers Beach residents to understand that “while the homeless capture all the headlines, they are a minority, as most of those in need are the underemployed and underpaid, who need a meal or two a week to get by, so this is a huge problem we will not solve overnight or in a few weeks.”
He feels the homeless on Fort Myers Beach are here to stay, in one form or another, “for a very simple reason – it is warm here most of the time! When I was a lawyer up in Chicago and worked with a group who served the homeless, each of us took care of a certain group so we did not duplicate services, and in the fall those guys and gals disappeared and in the Spring they magically reappeared, and we joked they went to Florida for the Winter, but that was true! You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that it will be as much as 50-degrees below wind chill up North this week, with temperatures around 15-below, so it makes more sense that if you do not have a house, it is better to sleep on the beach here than on the streets up there.”
FMB Ministerial Association Statement:
Following its meeting this week, the Ministerial Association of Fort Myers Beach issued the following statement:
“The Pastors and Churches of the Ministerial Association of Fort Myers Beach would like to offer the following statement to our members, Town leaders, and all citizens.
We take pride to our community in meeting the needs of our community that fall within the areas of our ministry, whether those needs are spiritual, emotional, or physical. We choose to burden ourselves with those needs as we are commanded to do in the Bible.
However, we also recognize the truth in the fact that we cannot meet every need that someone may have and that sometimes we are presented with individuals who have needs and even desires that fall outside the scope of our ministry. To those truths, we want to declare that we are committed to doing everything in our ability to ensure the safety of everyone in our churches and our community at large. From our individual safety and security plans that are in place in our organization to working closely with law enforcement in the proper handling and informing about individuals who seek anything other than to be a wholesome part of our community.
We will continue in the task that we are commissioned with to bring the Gospel not only to our community but to the nation but we will always be diligent to the fight that we are engaged in with any enemy that chooses to bring harm to any other person that is entrusted to our care.
Thank You – The Ministerial Association of Churches of Fort Myers Beach.
Pastor Shawn Critser, Beach Baptist; Pastor Ivan Corbin, Beach United Methodist; Pastor Stephen Adkison, Chapel By The Sea; Father John Adler, St. Raphael’s Episcopal; Pastor Charles “Rusty” May, St. Peters Lutheran”
Our Community & Ourselves
Pastor John does not pretend to have any answers now. “This has to be a process, with everyone on the beach playing a part. It will take time, with representatives from throughout the community, including not only the churches, but the Town Council and Government, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, local residents and businesses, and even the homeless, because if we do not include them, what is the point?”
“These tragedies do not just happen on Fort Myers Beach,” concluded Gore, “but all around the world. No one should be afraid to come to Fort Myers Beach and I am not afraid to live here, nor do I not intend to be. Like Sheriff Marceno said, ‘if you see something, say something,’ to help our community and ourselves!”
By Gary Mooney