What happens when people pass under this bridge in Pottsville?
Based on recent events … we don’t want to know.
Earlier this week, police and the Schuylkill County Coroner’s Office descended upon a place thousands of people drive over every day in Pottsville.
Steps beyond that tiny Mauch Chunk Street bridge, “behind the KFC” on the south side of Pottsville, someone discovered 53-year-old Gary Haney’s body.
Haney was homeless. He likely communed with the homeless living along the banks of the Schuylkill River just outside Pottsville.
With seemingly no connections to the rest of the world and his death, we have little to go on but we do know something about Haney’s life.
Haney was a sex offender. And for some reason, he ended up in Pottsville.
Haney Relatives Located
Following the discovery of Haney’s body, Pottsville Police issued a public statement seeking anyone who might claim his body. Pottsville PD reported most recently on Twitter that they’ve identified someone who fits the “next of kin” billing for Haney.
Relatives of Gary Haney have been located. @Pbp247 thanks everyone for your help.
— PottsvillePolice (@Pbp247) June 8, 2019
So, case closed, right?
Hardly. But at least it’s somewhat comforting to know that Haney’s final arrangements are handled.
Stress the “somewhat” there.
No, the case that’s left here is ours to solve. There are so many questions to answer:
- How does a guy like Gary Haney end up in Pottsville?
- Why are there so many people living along the Schuylkill River?
- Who are these people?
- Is the Tent City now bringing us its dead?
Gary Haney’s Story
When authorities finally announced an ID on the body they found under the bridge behind the KFC, they said Gary Haney hailed from Harrisburg.
More accurately, Haney’s LKA (or Last Known Address) says Harrisburg.
The last time anyone knew where Haney lived was around this time last year. That’s when authorities charged Haney with failing to meet the requirements of Megan’s Law. That’s what requires Haney and all released sex offenders to report their location to proper authorities whenever they’re on the move.
Every state has different reporting requirements and part of Pennsylvania’s requires that a registered sex offender, like Haney, provide an address that’s suitable for overnight stays (i.e. there are windows, lights, a bathroom, etc.). The address Haney provided to State Police the last time he checked in for his quarterly assignments was a storage shed. That doesn’t count and technically is a felony.
But apparently, it’s not felonious enough to warrant sending Haney back to prison. Justifiably so, probably, in this case. That case is dismissed, according to his court records.
Of course …
This raises the obvious question: why was Gary Haney required to register as a sex offender?
In February 1998, Haney pleaded guilty to felony charges of rape and incest in Lancaster County.
He was sent to prison and eventually released in 2013 in Cumberland County. He spent nearly 15 years in prison for those crimes he admitted to committing.
In 2016, he sat down with a reporter from The Sentinel in Cumberland County and detailed the life he led since walking out of prison.
From the story he told, you could see where he was headed. To the reporter, at least, he said the things that made him sound remorseful and he understood his standing in society.
My concern was that I had done so much damage and so many hurtful things that contact, especially at that time, would have caused so much devastation. I would have made things worse and not better.
But he also sounded like he was at least trying to do something. He expressed frustration with the system that last saw him encounter the law. About the Megan’s Law recording system, he says:
I think with the modern technology they could update the requirements and society would still have the assurance that they have now that I’m being well monitored.
So, the last anyone heard from Gary Haney was this. The Sentinel did an award-winning series on the Megan’s Law requirements in Pennsylvania and did expose some cracks in the system. Though, it’s unlikely these flaws led to Haney’s ultimate downfall.
We can presume Haney had a hard time finding a steady income and was likely staying in the Enola storage unit he listed as his address.
The Road to Pottsville
So, the question here is not how Gary Haney made the 59-mile journey from Enola to Pottsville. The real question here is, Why?
Why is a man like Haney living here along the banks of the Schuylkill River, if that’s what was happening? He’s miles from the last place he called home.
Based on the difficulty in finding relatives of his to identify and then claim his body, he has no direct connection to the area.
Gary Haney was a convicted sex offender down on his “luck” after leaving prison. His inability to keep a suitable roof over his head to satisfy the requirements of Megan’s Law have him back in jail for at least a little while until that case is dropped.
He leaves jail once again and says …
“I’m going to Pottsville?”
More likely, he ended up here.
The Tent City
People like Haney don’t pick Pottsville because they hear about the downtown revitalization.
That’s not to say Pottsville doesn’t present itself as an enticing option for an outsider like Haney.
What about Pottsville makes it the kind of place where a guy like Haney could end up and presumably fit in for a while?
Pottsville’s Tent City has been around at least 5 years — but probably more — and definitely moves around. It’s anywhere from the Cressona Mall all the way up the rail line extending into Palo Alto, just outside Pottsville.
Every homeless person has their own story about how they ended up there. The more we learn, there’s less of the stories that make you say, “It could be me,” and more stories like Haney’s.
However, to be clear, we’re not saying that every person living along the Schuylkill River is a drug addict or a pedophile. We’re not saying any more are, for that matter.
More Bad News Than Sad News
In just the last few months, this is the second big story to develop surrounding the worst-kept secret in Pottsville. That’s the Tent City inhabiting the banks of the Schuylkill River.
Instead, it seems there are more castaways and drug-induced zombies among the Tent City residents. To be clear, that’s more, not all.
Haney seems to fit the castaway mold here, not the drug zombie. Neither would say they’d associate with the other but both aren’t ready for the world where this news is readily accessible.
But remember the last time we got evidence that people call the banks of the Schuylkill River their home. It was the fire at the former Days Inn building by the Cressona Mall.
In The Canary’s report on the fire, we uncovered a YouTube video showing the conditions inside the hotel prior to the blaze. In it, you see clear evidence people called the buildings their home.
The Canary can not confirm any number of people living along the Schuylkill right now. We don’t know how many just had the rug pulled out from under them in life. And we don’t know how many made terrible decisions that led them to such a position.
Pottsville’s Permanent Homeless Class
Here’s at least how it seems to us:
A permanent homeless class is putting down roots along the Schuylkill River just outside Pottsville.
They’ve been there for years and it doesn’t appear they’re ready, as a whole, to lace up their boots and rejoin the society on the other side of the bridge.
In this latest instance, Haney’s body was found in a place that it would eventually have been found: not in the wide open but not so hidden as to go unnoticed for too long. So, it’s fairly safe to assume Haney died among others living along the Schuylkill and his body was left in a spot where it could be found.
Literally bringing us their dead is a sure sign that at least some people living along the river aren’t planning on leaving.