Luck changes for Billy Ray Harris, the homeless man who returned an engagement ring dropped into his beggar's cup

Couple’s online fund to raise the $4,000 Harris turned down now stands at $185,000

The luck changed for Billy Ray Harris one day last month when the usual tinkling of coins being dropped into his beggar’s cup on a plaza in Kansas City was punctuated by a slightly heavier clunk. A few minutes later he looked inside and spied a woman’s engagement ring with a tidy-looking rock.

The first thought of a man begging to survive might have been to run to the nearest jewellery shop. And that is what Mr Harris did. But when he was offered $4,000 (£2,600), a better instinct took charge. He kept it in case the owner came back.

Thus began an urban fable that has captured the hearts of America. Whatever impelled Mr Harris to turn down the cash – he has attributed it to the pastor grandfather who raised him – he has been repaid. Six weeks later he has been reunited with long-lost siblings, he has a home, a job, and enough money to retire from begging.

The ring’s owner returned two mornings later – Sarah Darling said she may have dropped something valuable into his cup. Mr Harris related the moment in an appearance on NBC’s breakfast show, Today: “‘Was it a ring?’” he recalled asking her. “And she says, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, I have it.’”

Ms Darling decided with her husband to set up an online fund to try to raise the $4,000 that Mr Harris, 55, had turned down. By yesterday, it had reached $185,000 and was still growing. In the meantime, a sister, Robin Harris Williams, with whom he had lost touch, heard the story on the news and realised Mr Harris was her brother.

It was on the NBC set that Mr Harris was finally reunited on Sunday with Robin and two other sisters, Nellie and Elsie, after 16 years apart. “I’m in shock,” Mr Harris said. And he knows he made the right decision at the jewellery shop. “This is a big payoff,” said a smiling Mr Harris, surrounded by his family. “Got it all right here now.” He also has a roof over his head and an air mattress. “It’s like living like a king compared to where I was.”

Ms Darling, who started the fairy tale when she reached into her purse that day in February for coins, forgetting that amongst them was her diamond ring, said: “It seemed like a miracle. I thought for sure there was no way I would get it back.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor