"I couldn't have been luckier": How one man's compassion changed a homeless teen's life

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. -- Generally speaking, bars are not bastions of grace and kindness. But at Jimmy's in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, owner Jimmy Gilleece believes there's a lot more to serving customers than a good pour.  

As we first reported a few months ago, he went way above and beyond for one patron -- a total stranger who lost her wallet with her wedding ring inside. 

"She was frantic, really upset about it, so it just became my mission," Jimmy said.

His mission to find her ring began with a thorough screening of the security footage. He had to watch three hours before finally finding her wallet on a bench outside the bar with the shady character approaching.

Eventually, Jimmy figured out who it was and got him to confess to taking the cash and dumping the wallet in an ocean channel. It was long gone.

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Jimmy Gilleece

CBS News

"After I invested all that time, I'm gonna find the ring," Jimmy said. "So I hired divers to come out the next day."

Divers scoured the seabed and eventually surfaced with a soggy wallet and an irreplaceable treasure. 

Jimmy went so far beyond what most of us would do for a stranger. Yet, even after solving the mystery, he still felt the need to do more -- not for the woman who lost the wallet, but for the thief who took it.

"He was living in the woods, and this is when it was 30 degrees outside. And he hadn't eaten in two days. I could tell he wasn't a criminal. He was just somebody who needed a little help," Jimmy said.

Rivers Prather, 17, was estranged from his mother. He'd been trying to make it on his own but was homeless the day he stumbled into Jimmy's life.

"I couldn't have been luckier," Rivers said. "Most other people would have just gave the footage to police and he chose to help me. He's made me part of his family."

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Rivers Prather moved into Jimmy Gilleec's home.

CBS News

Literally part of his family. Rivers moved into Jimmy's house with his fiancé and kids. For work, he helps out around the bar, where he was recently caught on camera -- again. He thought Jimmy would appreciate him relocating a baby raccoon from the garbage, unaware of just how unappreciative the mother raccoon would be. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. And the good news is, he's at least trying to return the favor.

"I'd do anything for him," Rivers said.

When that wallet got stolen by a homeless kid, Jimmy Gilleece could have called on police, courts, or social services. But instead he called on the best problem-solver of all: the compassion within.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.