NYC police officer honored for his act of kindness
NEW YORK -- Officer Lawrence DePrimo clutched a pair of cuff links, just given to him privately by the police commissioner, and stood alone before a semicircle of 10 television cameras Thursday.
Photographers clicked away as reporters barked questions, trying to get a bead on this young patrolman who found celebrity when he had intended only to offer kindness: buying boots for a homeless man one recent night, not thinking anyone except that man would ever know or care.
A photo of the encounter spread on the Internet on Wednesday, a story seemingly crafted expressly to be read, "liked" and shared by hundreds of thousands on social media, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose Twitter account Thursday noted that DePrimo's gesture was "an important reminder to give back this holiday season."
Yet as the cameras flashed on the officer, a central character remained absent from the tale: the homeless man who received the boots the night of Nov. 14.
Advocates for homeless people and those who provide services for them said the man seemed familiar. Some said he regularly rode the A train.
Others that he had been seen around Times Square. None recalled a name.
The photograph of DePrimo, 25, kneeling to help the man, was taken by an Arizona tourist and posted to Facebook by the police department this week. It prompted several people to recall seeing a similar-looking man recently, walking shoeless.
"I walked by this man in Union Square Wednesday, Nov. 21," said Melissa Gallaher-Smith, "and he was again barefoot. I remember very clearly because his pants were also hiked up and his feet were very large."
Susan Harpster said in an email that she believed she saw the man barefoot near Rockefeller Center only days after the gift from DePrimo.
"Where were the boots that the officer bought him?" she said.
"They were not on his feet."
A woman said she had encountered the man last December in Times Square and had also bought him shoes -- in her case, from a nearby Foot Locker.
"I hope it's a different person but it so affected me, I'm pretty sure that it's the same guy," said the woman, who works in the theater industry and asked to remain anonymous because she had intended her gift to be private.
That is how DePrimo meant it as well.
"I didn't really think anything of it at the time," he said Thursday. "What sticks out in my mind is he was such a kind gentleman that I had to help him. I wanted to."
His father, also named Lawrence, said the attention had been overwhelming; news trucks camped outside the family home in Suffolk County, where the officer lives in a basement suite.
"Two weeks ago Larry came home and told us the story and we said it was a wonderful thing. I gave him a hug. And that's the last we thought of it," he said.