Billy Ray Harris frequently panhandled on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.
(Photo: KCTV5 via AP)
(USA Today) -- Billy Ray Harris never imagined one good deed could change his life.
Until it did.
Harris, who had been homeless for years, made national headlines for returning a lost engagement ring left in his donation cup last February. Now, he has a home, a job, and on Sunday, he reunited with his family after 16 years.
"This is a really big surprise," Harris, of Kansas City, Mo., said during a tearful reunion with his siblings on the Today show Sunday. "I'm in shock."
Harris' four siblings surprised him on the set of the Today show. They hadn't seen or talked to Harris in more than a decade, until his younger sister Robin saw a story about Harris online after his good deed went viral.
Harris, who frequently panhandled on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, discovered an engagement ring after a woman dumped spare change from her coin purse into his cup. Sarah Darling had taken off her ring earlier that day and put it with the coins.
"The ring was so big that I knew if it was real, it was expensive," Harris told KCTV in February.
Harris admitted to Today that he took the ring to a local jeweler, who offered him $4,000 for it. Harris considered selling it, but decided to hold on to it, waiting for Darling to return.
A couple of days later, Darling, horrorstruck when she realized what she had done, did just that.
She went back to Harris, squatted beside him and told him that she might have given him something valuable.
"'Was it a ring?'" he recalled asking her. "And she says, 'Yeah.' And I said 'Well, I have it.' "
In explaining why he didn't keep the ring, Harris said he had a religious upbringing.
"My grandfather was a reverend," Harris said. "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."
Darling gave Harris all the cash she had in her wallet at the time.
"It seemed like a miracle," Darling said. "I thought for sure there was no way I would get it back."
Darling and her husband set up a website seeking donations for Harris, hoping to raise the $4,000 Harris was offered for the ring.
It turns out they weren't the only ones moved by Harris' good deed. With more than 8,000 donations, the fund has raised $185,000 dollars.
For Harris, that wasn't even the biggest payoff.
Billy's youngest sister Robin, who lives nearly 500 miles away in Wichita Falls, Texas, saw Harris' story online, and immediately knew it was the brother she had been searching for. She was able to track Harris down, and they reconnected by phone.
"We cried on the phone and stuff and was talking about how happy we was that we found each other because he said he was worried about me too," Robin told Today. "He had been gone so long."
Harris, with his arm wrapped tightly around his sister during their reunion Sunday. reflected on how much he's gained since the ring landed in his cup.
"This is a big payoff," said Harris, sitting on a couch was his family. "Got it all right here now."