Boise & Garden City

Boise advocates and mourners remember homeless man who was found dead in Julia Davis Park

His nickname “Rusty” came from his family, for his red hair.

Perry “Rusty” Woodard, 49, was found dead in Julia Davis Park Jan. 30. He died homeless, but friends and family agree, he was loved.

“He was a cute little boy,” said Bonnie Woodard-Hill, Woodard’s mother. “His sisters just doted over him and spoiled him rotten.”

Woodard was the youngest in his family with three older sisters who loved him dearly, she said.

But mental health issues ran in the family, and folks started to notice it in Woodard when he was just 14, Woodard-Hill said.

“Little by little we would lose him,” she said. “He would withdraw.”

Investigators are running a toxicology test, but the cause of his death is still undetermined as of Sunday. Authorities have said they don’t think foul play was involved. Woodard was said to be one of the residents of Cooper Court, the former homeless encampment that was in the alley between Americana Boulevard, River Street and the Connector.

Near where he was found, at the northeast end of the park, about a week after he was found, advocates and mourners gathered for a memorial. Woodard’s photo, with a short bio, and flowers in a Ming-style vase, were placed on a fold-out stool. A small group of about 20 circled around it.

They sang “Amazing Grace” and brought flowers down to the bank of the Boise River.

Several spoke about who he was, and moreover, how important it was that Woodard was treated with the same dignity in death that those with houses get.

“I think that we should remember Perry (Woodard) — again — for who he was, and to appreciate the people that did care for him and appreciate the people that loved him and the family that he had,” said Peg Richards, president of the Boise/Ada County Homeless Coalition, which organized the memorial.

Woodard’s death is having an impact on the homeless community, said Henry Krewer, who co-founded Corpus Christi House.

“When there's a community —a close-knit community like the homeless community — every time there's a tragic death, it really sends a shock wave through the whole community,” Krewer said at the memorial. “And a memorial doesn't change that. It does say that we recognize his humanity and we recognize that being homeless is not his only story. He had a family he had a life before homelessness and we just want to remember him and one of our community.”

Woodard-Hill said her son was a religious man with a fun spirit, when he was coping with mental health problems. When medications or therapy stopped, or stopped working, he would fall into a “dark side,” she said.

“He was well-liked. He had a dark side. And when he was in a good mood he was easy,” she said. “We always knew eventually he would dip. It was a helpless situation with the family.”

Woodard-Hill said her son would resurface, and call home, and come back into the filial fold, but that he would inevitably fall back into depression and substance abuse.

“They would try different drugs and many times it would bring him out of it and he would feel good about himself,” she said.

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner