By Eun Kyung Kim, TODAY contributor
Character is what you do when no one is watching.
But a stranger was watching New York Police Officer Lawrence DePrimo when he decided to buy a barefoot homeless man a pair of new boots on a cold night earlier this month.
“The two things that really stuck out in my mind that night was just how cold it was and that this was the most polite gentleman I ever met, and I knew I had to help him,” DePrimo said Friday on TODAY.
Unbeknownst to DePrimo, a nearby tourist snapped a picture of the random act of kindness — and the photo quickly went viral.
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“I knew what I was looking at,” said Jennifer Foster, who was visiting Times Square from Arizona. The moment reminded her of a similar act by her father, a 32-year veteran of the Phoenix police department, and she quickly grabbed her phone.
“I knew it was remarkable,” she said.
Foster sent the photo to the New York Police Department, which posted the snapshot to its Facebook page and quickly picked up more than 430,000 likes. Mentions of the photo also started trending heavily on Twitter.
On TODAY’s Facebook page, the photo has been liked by more than 70,000 followers.
DePrimo, 25, was on counter terrorism patrol the night of Nov. 14, when he spoke to the homeless man. He then went inside a nearby shoe store to purchase some socks and boots.
“I worked in the city for about 10 years and no one’s really sort of taken that sort of initiative,” said Jose Cano, a store employee who gave DePrimo a discount on the pair of waterproof winter boots. The shoes ended up costing $75.
“I really didn’t think about the money,” he told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “I said, I don’t care what the price is. We just got to help him out.”
The photo — and the heartwarming story behind it — has turned DePrimo into an Internet hero.
He said he’s found fame “surreal and extremely humbling.”
“It’s a great experience,” he said. “I think it’s a lot about the people, though, because you see such great comments. People are saying that their faith in humanity is restored and that’s the biggest thing that I can take away from all of this.”