In August 2019 teenager Tyrea Pryor was in a grocery store parking lot in Independence, Missouri, when someone caught his eye. It was an elderly lady struggling with her shopping among the cars. Then, without a second thought, the teenager ran toward her and began to remove his coat. But little did he know, a police officer was watching.
Officer Joe Holt was sitting in his patrol car after stopping off for a bite to eat, and he saw young Pryor running over to the old woman in need. However, the cop was taken aback by what the teen did next.
Stunned by what he’d just witnessed, Holt followed Pryor back to the vehicle from which the latter had originally emerged. His mom was there and the officer explained what he’d just seen her son do. But it didn’t surprise her; after all, it wasn’t the first time. Despite that, she found it hard to hold back the tears.
But Holt wasn’t done yet; he’d actually taken a picture of the teenager, catching him in full flight. And the officer wanted to make an example of him, so he posted the image showing Pryor helping the woman on Facebook.
Holt’s Facebook post soon went viral, and it was then that he recognized that he should do something. The cop needed to track the kid down, but he didn’t even have so much as a name. So Holt used the power of the post he had shared and asked the internet, “Do you know him?”
Holt serves the Independence Police Department, east of the Kansas City area, Missouri. Although he has served as a police officer for several years, he was sworn into his current jurisdiction in June 2018. But even with the resources of the force at hand, finding the teenager would be a task.
Independence has a population of nearly 120,000; and given that Holt hadn’t taken the teenager or his mom’s names, where would he begin his search? Well, as it happened, crucial help came after his Facebook post went viral and the story made it to national news.
The teenager was soon identified as Tyrea Pryor. And, as it happened, it was one of his family members who had called the police department to name the boy that Holt looking for. Naturally, when they saw why the officer was trying to find him, they must have felt that it was the right thing to do.
According to NeighborhoodScout, a lot of the offences in Independence are property crimes, including burglary, car theft, larceny and arson. In fact, the FBI notes that the city has among the highest rates of vehicle theft in the United States.
It’s an unfortunate statistic that Independence also has among the highest violent crime rates in the U.S., according to NeighborhoodScout. The local force employs just over 200 commissioned police officers and the department has a clear mission statement.
The Independence Police Department says that its aims are, “to protect life, individual liberty and the property of all people within the city of Independence; to lower crime and disorder in the community; to develop and maintain a positive relationship with members of the community; [and] to foster a positive work environment for police employees.”
And part of the Independence Police Department’s mission statement had a particularly strong bearing on Holt on a day in August 2019. It’s typical for cops on patrol around Independence to work 12-hour shifts; so, inevitably, Holt eventually grew hungry and needed to grab something to eat.
Hungry, Holt pulled up outside a local Hy-Vee store to grab some food. For those who don’t know, Hy-Vee is a retailer with locations across eight Midwestern states. However, it doesn’t just sell groceries; the store Holt visited offers fast food options, with an onsite Chinese takeaway and Italian restaurant, too.
So with the culinary options available to Holt, he wasn’t short of food choices. However, as an officer, his senses are no doubt on full alert, especially while on duty. And before he exited his vehicle, something caught his eye across the parking lot. Would he need to jump into action?
To further set the scene, rain was lashing down on that August day; but it wasn’t the inclement conditions that caught Holt’s attention. Perhaps he hadn’t expected to see anyone exposed to the elements, given how hard the rain was falling.
Holt spotted a teenager, later identified as Pryor, running through the parking lot and removing his jacket as he did so. An unusual sight, for sure, especially when most people would probably put on their coats during a rainstorm. But Pryor wasn’t the only person outside getting wet at that moment in time.
An elderly woman was struggling in the rain walking to her car, and she wasn’t wearing a coat. Holt, for his part, sat back and watched as Pryor ran over to her, and was warmed when he saw what the teenager did next.
As Holt described in his Facebook post, “So, today I experienced something that actually set me back a little. It didn’t set me back because I was shocked but because I got to witness it first-hand.” So what was it that the teenager did to throw the cop off guard?
Holt continued, “With all the hate fueled by color, belief, sexual preference or race it actually p****s me off. Why, because most of it is based off what they read in the papers. Most isn’t based off personal experiences.” In reality, what the police officer saw Pryor do was an act based on love, not hate.
As Holt described, “This young black male [teen] exited the backseat of a van he was in while it was pouring [with] rain [and he] took his coat off and protected this elderly white female from the environment the best he could all the way to her car.” But there was something else that stood out to the officer, too.
What impressed Holt was that Pryor did the kind act as if on autopilot. The former continued, “He then walked back to his car all while not saying a word to his auntie or mom when he exited or re-entered.” Pryor didn’t need encouragement, and nor did he need to announce his intentions or seek any praise.
But the touching gesture hit Holt hard; he thought the teenager deserved to be recognized for what he had done. So, as the cop mentioned, after Pryor helped the old woman back to her car, he headed back to his, with his mother behind the wheel. And the police officer followed him to the vehicle.
As Pryor’s mom, Ebony Findley, saw a cop approaching her vehicle, her first instinct was fear – she was concerned she had done something wrong. After all, she had no idea what her son had just done.
As Holt later explained on Facebook, “I followed him to the van and approached the driver who was his mom. I told this young man I was impressed and he should be proud – because I was. His mom had no idea what was happening, because she thought she had done something wrong since I was in uniform.”
In fact, Pryor’s mom Findley was far from in trouble. And when Holt described what he had just seen her son do, she couldn’t hold back the tears. The cop told Fox4 News in August 2019, “I was just totally thrilled by it. I couldn’t let it go unnoticed.”
And Findley too was visibly proud of her teenage son. As Holt wrote on Facebook, “I told [Pryor’s] mom that she had done [an] amazing [job] with him and [I] pray he goes places. She started tearing up, because I was a cop and took time out of my day to call him out on what I witnessed.”
Holt continued in his post, “This kid cared less about race, religion or color. The only thing this kid cared about was being kind.” But another surprise awaited Holt when he shared the story on Facebook.
Holt posted an image on the social media platform that he had snapped from his cruiser, showing Pryor sheltering the elderly lady from the downpour with his jacket. The teenager can be seen placing his arm gently around her shoulders, as he guides her to her parked car amid the pouring rain.
The heartwarming image and story soon went viral, reaching as far as New York and New Brunswick in Canada. It was further picked up by local, national and international news outlets, and to date it has been liked over 6,000 times and had over 2,500 shares.
Holt closed his Facebook message with a promise, saying, “Kiddo If you see me on the street again, this guy owes [you] a dinner. You ever need anything I will come running to [you].” However, inspired by the teen’s actions, the officer realized he needed to take it a step further.
As a reminder, part of the Independence Police Department’s mission statement is “to develop and maintain a positive relationship with members of the community.” And that’s exactly what Holt intended to do. So instead of a passive invitation to dinner if their paths crossed again, Holt put out word for Pryor to contact him.
Of course, Pryor hadn’t been in any trouble on that rainy day in the parking lot, and Holt hadn’t thought to take down his or his mom’s name. However, the story had gained such momentum that within a week, a member of Pryor’s family came forward with the teenager’s identity.
As Holt explained to Fox4 News, “[Pryor is] the hero. I’m just the photographer in this situation. So it’s wherever he wants to go. It’s on my dime; so he can pick.” As it happened, the teenager chose Red Lobster, where Holt kept his word for both him and his mom.
“I’ve been doing that since I was young, just like helping people,” Pryor explained to news outlet WQAD in August 2019. He further clarified, “It looked like she needed help. I was raised to, like, do right toward anybody. It doesn’t matter what race or anything.” And although Holt had reduced his mom to tears when he’d explained her sons actions, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.
“He is always helping people, cutting their grass, taking their groceries in for them and is always helping the elderly,” mom-of-three Findley described to the Daily Mail in August 2019. “That’s my baby. He is my oldest but always will be my baby.”
Pryor is now a motivational speaker at schools around the Independence area, volunteering his time inspiring fourth and fifth graders to achieve their ambitions. And for her part, his mom explained that she’s been touched by all the wonderful things people have said about her teenage son and the messages they’d left for him.
Writing on the Facebook post about Holt’s heartwarming experience with Pryor, one user commented, “Bravo! His mom must be so proud of him ‘cause I know I am.” Another added, “Our world would be such a better place if we could acknowledge good over evil… Thanks young man, mom and officer for doing the right thing.”
Pryor’s mom Findley added to the Daily Mail, “I’m just overwhelmed, he has vitiligo, so it’s been overwhelming seeing people say all of these positive things about him. It makes me happy and brings joy to him. Kids can be rough and cruel sometimes; this is a thing we deal with so I’m glad this was so positive.”
Vitiligo, incidentally, is a condition which causes white blotches on the skin. However, while Findley held immense pride for her son and the positive vibes he shares, she also had praise for Holt. She told WQAD, “What he felt that day and the compassion he had was wholehearted. So I appreciate him.”
Findley is understandably proud of her son, who she says absorbs life and its lessons like a sponge. And it’s an example that Pryor hopes we will all learn from. Amazingly, the teenager even scored a job at Hy-Vee out of his random act of kindness that day. He told WQAD, “It doesn’t matter who it is, just do what you know is correct.”