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Gainesville homeless camp residents describe ‘hollow’ feeling after friend, leader killed
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A memorial for Leon Hines is set up alongside a Gainesville homeless camp where he lived. Hines was found dead near the camp, and Gainesville Police arrested a man accused of the slaying. - photo by Scott Rogers

Whether he was a general or the “mayor of Queen City,” the members of a homeless camp near Industrial Boulevard find themselves without their leader.

A stalwart in Gainesville’s homeless community, Leon Hines, 66, was found unconscious Monday, Oct. 18, slumped over the railroad tracks in Gainesville with blood on his head and hands.

Cpl. Jessica Van said EMTs attempted medical care, but Hines was pronounced dead at the scene.

An autopsy Thursday, Oct. 21, concluded Hines’ death was a homicide, police said. On Saturday, Oct. 22, a newcomer to the encampment, Dexter Bernard Pulliam, 51, was charged with malice murder and booked in to the Hall County Jail. 

According to the warrant, Pulliam struck Hines on the right side of his head with a sharp object.

Pulliam was named as a suspect after interviews and the analysis of forensic evidence, police said. Pulliam’s defense attorney Larry Duttweiler has not returned a request for comment.

Claudia Miranda, owner of the nearby Taqueria El Rey, called 911 for Hines after someone from the camp found him lying near the railroad tracks. Miranda said she has known Hines for 15 years and she described him as a sweet and special man who also had a stubborn side.

Every morning, Hines would come to the restaurant to charge his phone. Eager to help Miranda out, he would bus tables at the restaurant without a second thought.

More than 30 people attended a memorial Sunday, Oct. 24, near where Hines had died six days earlier.

Some residents at the camp were still overcome with emotions Monday, Oct. 25, when asked about Hines. They described the man like both a father figure and a general in the camp. 

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Ninth District Opportunity's Mike Fisher comforts Dianne Smith at a Gainesville homeless camp Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, during a visit to the camp to check in with the camp's residents. A camp resident, Leon Hines, was found slain nearby at railroad tracks near Industrial Boulevard. - photo by Scott Rogers

“With Mr. Hines gone, it’s hollow,” said Dianne Smith, who lives at the encampment and  detailed how he made sure people were fed and taken care of.

Smith said Hines was the one who got her out from under the Queen City Parkway bridge and set up her tent.

Others, however, mentioned how Hines’ leadership rubbed some the wrong way.

People who knew both Hines and Pulliam described a clash of two alpha males in the camp.

Charles Casey Roper, who is newer to the camp, said both men were very direct about how they felt.

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Charles Casey Roper lives in the homeless encampment where Leon Hines lived before he was found slain by the railroad tracks near Industrial Boulevard. - photo by Scott Rogers

Christen Lott Hunte, who works with a street outreach team, said Hines was the first homeless person she met in February when she began volunteering with Ninth District Opportunity. The outgoing and charismatic Hines gave her the lay of the land, as he had been in the homeless community for roughly 20 years, she said.

“He kind of looks out for everyone,” Lott Hunte said. “… Anytime one of the homeless goes missing or we don’t know where they are, we can usually go to him.”

Miranda said she knows Hines is in a better place, but there is a part of her that still hopes he will come walking through the restaurant’s doors.

“A bunch of people think he was just homeless, but to me, he was somebody special,” Miranda said as tears began to well up. “He was one of a kind.” 

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Taqueria El Rey owner Claudia Miranda remembers Leon Hines, a local homeless man that used to visit her Industrial Boulevard restaurant for many years. Hines was found slain nearby the camp at railroad tracks near Industrial Boulevard. - photo by Scott Rogers