Bill Ray Harris homeless panhandler from Missouri has had his life completely turned around by his act of honesty. He came to national attention earlier in the month when he returned a diamond ring that a woman mistakenly dropped in his change cup.
The inspiring story went viral immediately and the diamond ring owner Sarah Darling and her husband Bill Krejci, set up a fundraiser for him to show their appreciation.
KCTV5.com reports that Darling, from Kansas City, Missouri explained how she ended up handing over her ring to a panhandler at the Country Club Plaza: "My rings were bothering me, so I put them in my coin purse." She mistakenly threw the ring along with spare change into the panhandler's cup.
The Huffington Post reports it wasn't until the next day that she realized she had lost her engagement ring. She said: "I was so incredibly upset because, more than just the value of the ring, it had sentimental value."
Harris recalled what happened when Darling returned to inquire about her ring: "She squatted down like you did like right there and says ‘Do you remember me?' And I was like, ‘I don't know. I see a lot of faces.' She says, ‘I might have gave you something very valuable.' I said, ‘Was it a ring?' And she says, ‘Yeah.' And I said ‘Well, I have it.'"
Darling couldn't believe it when Harris handed the ring back to her. She said: "It seemed like a miracle. I thought for sure there was no way I would get it back."
And why didn't Harris just pawn the ring and "start a new life"? As KCTV5 pictures it: "...you live under a bridge, then, the next thing you know, you end up with platinum and diamonds. For some, it could be a life changer."
Well, Harris explains: "My grandfather was a reverend. He raised me from the time I was 6 months old and thank the good Lord, it's a blessing, but I do still have some character."
He told KCTV5: "The ring was so big that I knew if it was real, it was expensive."
Darling, still struggling to believe she got her ring back so easily, said: "I think in our world we often jump to like the worst conclusion, and it just makes you realize that there are good people out there."
As of Monday, February 25, Sarah Darling and her husband Bill Krejci had collected $142,000 since February 14 on the GiveForward fundraiser page they set up for Harris.
The Huffington Post reports that Darling and her husband Bill Krejci, have remained in touch with Harris and continue to share the story with everyone. The couple said they are inspired by Harris. Krejci said he told Harris about the donations coming in from all over the world. He said: "We talked about a lot of things related to my family's ring and the many donations. We talked about one day in the future the ring may one day be passed down to my daughter. We talked about how insanely positive all this has been."
Krejci said on the GiveForward fundraising page: "Words cannot express how it feels to be a part of something like this."
He explained: "After friends expressed interest in helping out Billy Ray I put this site together to take donations for him. All donations will be given directly to Billy Ray at the end of the 90 day GiveForeward Campaign."
According to The Huffington Post, a donor Volanda Shields, who gave $1,000 on the GiveForward fundraiser page, said: "I'm not sure of how you ended up in your situation, but after what I witnessed you do, I am most definitely sure that you are a honest man with a good heart. Watching you on the news the other day brought tears to my eyes because I thought of what so many others would have done."
The Daily Mail reports that Chris and Mel from Brentwood England who gave $20, said: "In life what goes around comes around... Billy - your sweet actions, despite being in dire straits yourself, prove that there is humility in the world... you are one shining example. Lots of love from across the pond."
Tero, who gave $10, said: "Several years ago, my mother's ring was stolen from my house. To this day, I recall the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Hopefully, your honest example will encourage others to pay it forward. Kudos to you, Billy Ray!"
CNN reports that Ophelia Wong Zen-na, who gave $10, said: "I am from Singapore and I greatly am grateful for your honesty! If I wasn't jobless I would give much more, but felt compelled to do something. Billy Ray do your best to become what you've always dreamed you could be. Its never too late. God Bless and thanks for never loosing your character in tough times."
Darling expressed her gratitude to Harris, saying: "I actually feel like I'm especially lucky to have this ring now. I loved it before. I loved it so much, but I love it so much more now. I feel like it has such great karma."
However, Harris has explained that returning the ring was an obvious decision. He wonders why his action is attracting to much attention. He told KCTV5: "What I actually feel like is: what has the world come to when a person who returns something that doesn't belong to him and all this happens?”
Harris said that more people visiting the Plaza now recognize him and give him money. People who would usually ignore him now stop to talk to him. When asked whether he was enjoying his new celebrity status, he said: "It's more stressful than what I'm doing right now. Does Tom Cruise have to be all that? I could never be an actor."
He said he is happy that his action raised new awareness that "it's better to give than receive." While he is enjoying the increased inflow of cash, CNN reports he said: "I don't think I deserve it."
The incidence has also brought about the joy of reunion for Harris. His sister Robin Harris saw a report about her brother in Wichita Falls, TX where she lives. She called the KCTV5 reporter Betsy Webster to help her contact her brother.
KCTV5 reports she said: "I want him to know that we love him and we miss him. We want him here and he (can have) a roof over his head if he chooses to come home."
The two were reportedly reunited on Thursday night.
But meanwhile, Harris continues to live underneath a bridge. He said that although hearing from his sister has been a precious experience for him, he will need to take a decision whether to move to Texas or not. He said: "Under the good Lord's purposes, I'm not homeless because I've got the biggest roof in the world over my head."