On a cold November night in Times Square, a New York City police officer knelt beside a barefoot homeless man and offered him a pair of boots. A photo of this heartwarming event rocketed around the internet and turned Officer Lawrence DePrimo a minor celebrity for his act of goodwill.
But more details are now coming out about the recipient of those boots, and it turns out that the man in the photo may not actually be homeless, according to the New York Daily News.
Jeffrey Hillman, 54, is allegedly living in a rented apartment in the Bronx, which he pays for with federal rent vouchers, social security and veteran’s benefits, the Daily News adds, claiming that Hillman has “a sad history of refusing help from loved ones and the government.”
The story of Hillman and Officer DePrimo, who lives with his parents on Long Island, became a viral sensation. Jennifer Foster, a tourist visiting Times Square, snapped a photo of the scene with her camera phone and sent it to the New York City Police Department. The NYPD posted it online Nov. 27; since then it has received over 600,000 Facebook likes and has been shared 219,708 times.
But even after The New York Times found Hillman — now barefoot again — his story wasn’t exactly clear. The $100 Sketchers boots that officer DePrimo had bought were nowhere to be seen; he told the Times that their high price tag could result in a violent attack against him.
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“I appreciate what the officer did, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I wish there were more people like him in the world.”
Hillman later outlined his plight to the Times, and while the New York Post confirmed that for periods of time Hillman had been homeless, now might not be one of them.
“Outreach teams from the Department of Homeless Services continue to attempt to work with him, but he has a history of turning down services,” Barbara Brancaccio, a spokeswoman for the city agency, told the Daily News.
Hillman family members also say they’ve offered help, but to no avail. Kirk Hillman told the Daily News that he hasn’t heard from his brother Jeffrey since January. “We love our brother very much,” he said. “Our door is always open to him, but this is a lifestyle he’s chosen.”