"It seemed like the right thing to do," Cpl. Jeremy Walsh said. "I had something that somebody else needed that I didn't need."
That aptly sums up the intentions of the Odessa, Texas police officer and Army vet whose simple act of kindness was captured in a photo unbeknownst to him...and is now going viral.
Walsh approached a homeless man in town with whom he's built a rapport, noted KEWS-TV in Midland, Texas. Walsh knew that the man, who goes by A.J., had been on the street for some time without footwear.
"From what he's told me he was in Colorado for a good while," Walsh told KEWS. "He ended up getting frostbite and losing the front part of his feet."
"He used to have some steel-toed Dockers," Walsh added. "They ended up falling apart on him. Well, I have some boots that I never wear because they're a size too small and they're just collecting dust in my closet so I figured A.J. could use them a lot more than I could."
Walsh didn't realize that while he was giving A.J. his boots and a bottle of water, a woman inside a local restaurant noticed their interaction and took a photograph. It eventually ended up on the Facebook page for the City of Odessa and is now an Internet hit. Walsh told the Odessa American that the event happened two weeks ago.
It wasn't easy getting A.J. — a “rugged” and “private” man — to accept the boots, Walsh told the Odessa American, adding that he sometimes becomes agitated when people try to “force” items on him.
They've known each other for a while, though, and Walsh said he eventually convinced A.J. to accept the boots — although on A.J.'s requested condition that he'll pay Walsh back.
“He likes to do the one-for-one sort of thing,” Walsh told the Odessa American.
"I saw him today, he said, 'I haven't forgotten about ya.' I said 'It wouldn't be a gift if we were trading bro,'" Walsh added to KEWS.
For A.J.'s part, he told KEWS that he's grateful for the officer's actions but is concerned the attention the photo has been getting is keeping Walsh from his regular duties.
TheBlaze contacted the restaurant from where the photo was taken. Owner Gail Kimbrell, whose daughter Ronda snapped the pic, said "we're all worried sick over" A.J. The temperatures Wednesday night into Thursday morning are predicted to head below freezing, with wind chills making it feel below 20 degrees. But A.J. has always declined to move.
"I don't know what we were gonna do," Kimbrell told TheBlaze. "He refuses to go anywhere." Kimbrell's daughter told the Odessa American that a local homeless shelter, the Jesus House, hasn't been able to convince A.J. to accept any help.
Odessa police confirmed that they cannot force A.J. to move. "Our hands are tied," a police spokeswoman told TheBlaze. "He's not breaking law."
Still, Kimbrell said, since the photo hit the Internet, she's witnessed car after car coming up to A.J. "nonstop" and leaving items to help him out. "Packages of brand-new blankets," she said. "My neighbor owns a bakery, and they're feeding him...but he doesn't want any attention."
Kimbrell added that she knows that Walsh, the officer, was "embarrassed," too, by the unexpected attention.
Still he is happy he can help.
"I've had a lot of supportive comments and pats on the back from the guys," Walsh, who's been with the department for two years, told KEWS. "Transients or homeless people, they're still people. If I can help him or anyone else, I can and I will."