A 51-year-old man was found dead next to a park bench at Seminary Park Thursday, according to the Bloomington Police Department Capt. Ryan Pedigo.
Several in the park expressed they believe the man died by freezing to death. The cause of death is under investigation.
“On December 24th at approximately 11:40 a.m., officers responded to Seminary Park at 101 W. 2nd Street in reference to a welfare check. A passerby reported that several subjects had asked them to call 911 because a man was lying on the ground in the park and was believed to be deceased. Upon the arrival of officers and EMS personnel, resuscitation efforts were attempted but were unsuccessful,” Pedigo stated to the media Thursday evening.
After emergency workers had left, people in the park experiencing homelessness, tried to process the news of the death.
“I don’t want to die in Bloomington,” said EJ Hill as he sat in a car with taped up windows trying to get warm. Two others sat in the vehicle with Hill also trying to keep warm.
Hill said the deceased man often pitched a tent in the park, but last night he’d just gotten back from trying to get help for alcoholism at Wheeler Mission.
“Everybody here knows him, he was just out of recovery,” said Hill. A tear rolled down Hill’s face as he talked about his friend who he described as kind, “He was a humble man.”
Hill said he’s also been sleeping outside as winter began this week, “We’re still in these tents. Thank god for a tent.”
“They think we’re criminals, but bitch, we’re trying to live,” said Hill. “I loved Bloomington, up until then …” said Hill, in reference to seeing his friend dead on the sidewalk.
Hill said the man was sleeping in the open near the bench, and not in a tent, and didn’t have enough blankets. Hill said the man had been out there all night, and that he believed the man succumbed to hypothermia.
Mark Winters sat on a park bench wrapped in a Christmas blanket. “If you drink too much in the cold, you’ll fall asleep and never wake up again,” said Winters, who said people in the park call him by his nickname, “Sarge.” Winters said he’d served in the United States Navy.
Winters said he watched the man be placed in a body bag, and he’d never seen someone put into a body bag.
Winters said in the past few days he’d slept in a stairway, until he was caught, then slept in an abandoned building, until he was woken up at 3 or 4 in the morning and asked to leave.
“I found an elementary school tipped over a big round brown trashcan crawled in it had a real thick plastic bag no blankets and a couple other things so I kept from freezing to death,” said winters when talking about another spot where he slept recently.
Winters said he often holds a sign to panhandle for money near the park.
“I hope he went to heaven,” said Winters, who said he’s happy that he’ll be staying in a hotel for Christmas Eve provided from donations collected by Hotels for Homeless in Bloomington.
Volunteers from the Bloomington Homeless Coalition arrived in the park, and began to distribute coats, blankets, food, and other items. Residents of the park scrambled to carry the items back into tents where they were trying to stay warm as the temperature was 25 degrees with light snow.
A man in a red jacket stood outside his tent and yelled, “F&%k Christmas!”
The community is already mourning the death of Iva Chatten, 49 years old from Bloomington, who died after being struck by a vehicle Monday. Chatten was allegedly experiencing homelessness at the time she was struck.
The news release sent to media by the police department continues, “Investigators spoke to several individuals inside Seminary Park who stated that they had spoken with the 51 year-old man earlier in the morning and that he seemed fine. It was learned that several people had tried to get the man services the previous evening and had offered for him to stay with them overnight, but the man refused and slept in the park. Officers from BPD had checked his welfare once during the evening hours of December 23rd and twice on the morning of December 24th, but the man was sleeping and refused any assistance.”
“There were no signs of foul play or injuries to the man. The decedent’s identity is not being released at this time until proper notification of his death can be made to next of kin.”