LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - It's a picture that tells a story of loneliness, hopelessness, despair. In the quiet corner of a Lexington park is the place where a homeless veteran lived and died.
A 15-year-old discovered the body of 69-year-old Dennis E. Reidy there on Tuesday.
"Lying in, basically, a type of garage storage box," said Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher.
It's a case that brings tears to Fisher's eyes. Since Tuesday, she's discovered Reidy was a Vietnam War veteran, a Richland County deputy from 1978 to 1990, and a University of South Carolina grad.
"He was found on the day that he passed wearing a South Carolina Gamecock jacket, and it just broke my heart," Fisher said, her voice trembling. "When you give up your life and your family and everything that you have to go out and serve your country, they deserve everything that they need when they get back. They deserve health care. They deserve shelter. They deserve everything that we can do for them as a country because they went out and protected us."
But what's more unforgettable to Fisher is where he was found. His body was found on Chariot Street, which is just a short walk from a shelter for homeless veterans where James Wardlaw, who goes by J.W., is outreach manager.
"What brought me here? I was homeless. In 2009, I was injured. I lived down in Georgia. Got hurt. And you know, the landlord doesn't care. The power company doesn't care," J.W. said.
Strict rules prevent J.W. from talking about Reidy and any interaction he had with the shelter, but he wanted to show WIS the shelter itself, which is known as the Central Midlands Transitional Retreat.
"We have six dormitories. Each dormitory has 16 bedrooms that house two veterans," J.W. said.
There are savory kitchens, shiny washing machines, and warm beds that come standard. Thursday afternoon, some of the residents soaked up a sunny day on the porch beside some pet parakeets.
As they did, their dormitory supervisor prepared dinner: hearty spaghetti with sausage and mushrooms. But, despite all the perks, not every homeless veteran wants to live there, J.W. said.
"It's like why I didn't at first want to come here, because, you know, my family – I have family – but I didn't want to let them know I was in trouble because of pride. I didn't want to let them know that I could use some help," he said.
J.W. said the walled rooms at his shelter and others can sometimes feel like those of prison cells to other homeless vets who are accustomed to the freedom of limited rules.
Regardless, he'll keep trying to reach out to them, whether they're living under bridges or in the woods.
"Brothers, come on in, you know. We're getting a little long in the tooth. We're here for you. We'll do anything to help you," he said.
As for the deceased homeless vet, Reidy, the coroner said he died of natural causes.
Sheriff Leon Lott was friends with him during their time together at the Richland County Sheriff's Department. He was a good man and a good cop, the sheriff said. Sheriff Lott said the whole ordeal is sad because he had no idea Reidy needed help.
However, the homeless veteran won't be forgotten. If his remains go unclaimed, Coroner Fisher will help cremate them, bury them at Fort Jackson National Cemetery, and display his flag in her office for eternity.
At the end of the day, though, Fisher said Reidy's case is a wake-up call that homeless veterans are in the Midlands and need the help of those who live here.