BROCKTON — Lee Harmon riding his touring bike was a familiar sight in the working-class neighborhood. The retired educator, who turned 74 on Monday, would pedal around town, picking up discarded aluminum cans that he would return for cash, which he donated to the homeless. A father and a grandfather, he would cycle anywhere in town to help friends and family in need, and always refused when anyone offered him a ride.
On Tuesday night, Harmon grabbed his bike and headed a couple of miles south to clean his disabled daughter's apartment. He never made it there. A man found Harmon with a gaping wound on the back of his head, lying on bloodstained asphalt littered with crumpled religious pamphlets that he carried with him. Harmon died from the wound, which reportedly was caused by a blow from a hammer.
The pamphlets were still strewn on Clinton Street Wednesday morning when his wife of 55 years, Francise Harmon, gathered with other friends and family to hold hands and pray near the spot where he was killed.
"Who could do such a thing to a man who never hurt anyone in his life," she said, raising her hands in the air.
Harmon's death was one of two apparent homicides that shocked Brockton Wednesday. As police scoured the small parking lot where Harmon was found, a man in his 40s was fatally stabbed on the other side of the city in an unrelated attack. Police chased the suspect to neighboring Abington, where an officer shot him.
"Violence has no place in our community and the last 24 hours have made me heartsick," Mayor Linda M. Balzotti said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
With more than four months remaining in 2013, the city has had nine homicides, three more than in all of 2012.
Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz, attempting to explain the increase in deadly violence in Brockton, put part of the blame on the recent release from custody of suspected drug dealers in connection with the wide-reaching state drug lab scandal.
Cruz said a homicide victim and a murder suspect this year were among those released because disgraced chemist Annie Dookhan tested evidence in their cases.
Authorities have not made any arrests in Harmon's killing.
A young man who lives on Clinton Street said he was the first person to go to Harmon, just after 8:40 p.m., and immediately realized that he was gravely injured. Harmon was holding a hand over his blood-soaked head and moaning, and his wrist had a severe wound that left a bone exposed, said the man, who declined to give his name.
"I saw a guy laying there with a bike, I stayed there and talked with him," the man said. "He was bleeding from his head, a lot of blood gushing and he was gasping for air."
According to broadcast reports, a hammer was recovered at the scene. Police declined to comment on the weapon used.
Francise Harmon said she had just returned home Tuesday night when state troopers showed up at her door.
"They asked if I knew the man who got killed and I said no," she said. "He said the man rides a bike and wears a hat. And I thought, 'That sounds like my husband.' "
Family said Lee Harmon arrived in Brockton from Mississippi at the age of 14, and spent most of his life helping others. He became a Pentecostal preacher, advising his flock against using alcohol and listening to music with sinful themes.
He retired from Head Start at 65 after developing an ulcer. He never stopped riding his bike.
"I can understand him falling off his bike hitting his head, but they took him, they stole him," said Tommie Harmon, 46, the victim's son. "He loved his bike, almost like a child. He would have given it to them if that was the case."