Billy Ray Harris, the homeless man from Kansas City, Mo., who showed tremendous integrity by returning a diamond-and-platinum engagement ring that was accidentally dropped into his change cup back in February, is now an international celebrity.
On Sunday, Harris was reunited with his family on NBC's Today show and a fundraiser established in his honor has received 8,280 donations for a total of $189,000... and counting.
His quintessential rags-to-riches story is not only heartwarming, but attests to the amazing powers of the Internet and social media.
To recount his story, Harris discovered an engagement ring after a woman dumped spare change from her purse into his cup. Sarah Darling had taken off her ring earlier that day and put it with the coins because the ring was bothering her finger.
"The ring was so big that I knew if it was real, it was expensive," the 55-year-old Harris told KCTV in February. He took it to a local jeweler, who offered him $4,000 on the spot. Instead of taking the money, Harris decided to hold onto the ring, sensing the donation was a mistake and that the woman would come back to claim it.
In explaining why he didn't try to sell the ring, Harris told KCTV, “My grandfather was a reverend. He raised me from the time I was six months old and thank the good Lord, it’s a blessing, but I do still have some character.”
When Darling realized her error, she returned to Harris' regular spot on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza. She told him that she might have given him something valuable. When she confirmed it was a ring, he said, "Well, I have it."
"It seemed like a miracle," Darling said. "I thought for sure there was no way I would get it back."
Darling and her husband, Bill Krejci, were so moved by Harris' selflessness that they started an online fund for him on the GiveForward web site. As of last night, it had surpassed $189,000. The fundraiser will continue until May 15.
Harris' act of selflessness drew international attention as his story went viral on both the Internet and TV news shows, including a segment on Sunday's Today show, where producers assembled a surprise family reunion.
"This is a really big surprise," Harris said during a joyous reunion with his four siblings. "I'm in shock." Harris hadn't seen or spoken with his siblings in more than a decade.
The world is much brighter for Harris since the diamond ring landed in his cup. "This is a big payoff," said a visibly emotional Harris. "Got it all right here now."