LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A Little Rock man was struck and killed by a car Friday night on Cantrell Road. Friends said he planned to attend an Easter Sunday service and hope his spirit is celebrating in a better place.

Michael Byrd, 53, lived in a makeshift camp behind the Kroger on Cantrell Road. He was walking across the street Friday around 9 p.m. when he was hit by a car and died. The unidentified driver stayed to talk to officers about what happened.

Rick McKay and Tucker Melton befriended Byrd over the last couple years, and they spent Sunday cleaning up his camp and remembering a man they said changed their lives.

“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, it’s just a homeless guy,'” Melton said. “But he really changed my heart around.”

Melton first met Byrd while pumping gas at a local gas station. Byrd initially scared Melton’s girlfriend by tapping on the passenger side window, but when Melton got to the car, Byrd simply wanted to compliment the vehicle.

“All he wanted to do was talk,” Melton said. “He didn’t want any money, anything.”

This spawned a friendship that lasted nearly two years, Melton said, including trips to Hot Springs, Fayetteville and regular get togethers. Melton helped Byrd craft his camp, which featured a tent purchased by McKay covered by a plastic tarp.

McKay met Byrd several months later, and he never thought he would build a friendship with him.

“I said, ‘Here’s my number. If you need me, take down my number. Put it in your phone, and call me,'” McKay said he told Byrd.

A week later, Byrd called, and the two became close. 

“He once literally gave his winter coat to somebody when they needed it,” McKay said. “He lived off a small social security check, and he always gave money to other people who needed it. That’s the type of guy he was.”

McKay said he invited Byrd to New Life Church for Easter Sunday service, and despite hesitancy over the duration of their friendship, the latter agreed for the first time.

“Somebody gave him some [clean] clothes, and he goes, ‘Yeah,'” McKay said.

Byrd died before he could complete that agreement. 

A friend called Melton to tell him he’d seen Byrd get hit as he crossed the street, and he sprang into action. Melton called family members, and when he couldn’t get a hold of them, he called McKay to tell him the news.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Melton said.

McKay said a lingering fear about Byrd’s soul stayed with him despite numerous conversations about spirituality and the afterlife. That changed Sunday when a church friend approached McKay to share a vision she’d had about Byrd.

“Byrd put his hand in Jesus’ hand, and she said, ‘I just saw them go away,'” Byrd said. “That was the end of it.”

Despite initially thinking they would help this man get back on his feet, they’ve discovered they learned much more from him than the other way around. They now have a new perspective about unsheltered Americans, who are often stigmatized in society.

Though Byrd couldn’t take part in the Easter Sunday service like he’d hoped, his friends said they have no doubt he’s celebrating somewhere better. They hope he’s traded his camp for a heavenly mansion.

“Someday, we’ll see him again,” McKay said. “We’ll see you soon, Byrd.”