When Kansas City homeless man Billy Ray Harris returned Sarah Darling’s engagement ring last month after she accidentally dropped it in his cup, it could have been the end of the story.
Instead, the experience has changed his life.
In the weeks since his good deed went viral, Harris has gained national attention, and supporters have raised over $175,000 for him to find a new home.
Something even more valuable happened: Harris is back in touch with his family, from whom he was estranged for the last 16 years.
Amid the media storm around the engagement ring episode, Robin Harris, Billy Ray’s younger sister, happened to come across an article about her brother, and reached out to the local news station that first reported the story for help tracking him down.
“When I turned my head, I recognized the name, and I turned back around and I looked at the picture again, and it was my brother,” Robin told TODAY.com. “I called and I said, ‘that’s my brother. I’ve been looking for him for 16 years.'”
Robin, who still lives in Texas where the family grew up, said she made repeated efforts to find her brother over the years, but had heard varying reports about his whereabouts, and was even once told that he had died.
When she was finally able to connect with him on the phone last month, the siblings had a long and emotional conversation to catch up on the last decade and a half.
“It was nice. I was crying,” she said. “I was happy to hear from my brother. I told him I just couldn’t believe he stayed homeless for so long when he knew he could come back. I would always give my brother a place to stay.”
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