Lexington homeless man apologizes for his panhandling act

jkegley@herald-leader.comMarch 14, 2013 

Gary Thompson's story was bound to go viral.

Last month, television news cameras caught the 30-year-old homeless Lexington man shamelessly — and convincingly — faking a mental disability, then admitting that it was a ruse he used to solicit donations from strangers.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people the world over have watched the footage online.

In a new interview with TV news on Thursday, Thompson's fame appeared to have caught up with him. Thompson told Lexington NBC affiliate WLEX (Channel 18) and CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27) that he has received death threats since his story went viral. He apologized and said he had quit panhandling and had applied for jobs. The interview was shown on the evening news programs of both stations.

"Seeing myself on the news being so boastful and people giving me so much money like that, I shouldn't have been so disrespectful like that to people," he told reporters Thursday.

News crews initially caught up with Thompson on Feb. 25 after a police news conference warning residents about his scam. Thompson happened to be hanging out near the police department's downtown headquarters at the time.

"How often do you get called to a press conference and the person you were there to talk about is right outside?" asked WLEX reporter and anchor Kristen Pflum, who has reported on Thompson's story. "As they say, the news gods were with us that day."

Thompson initially kept up his charade for the cameras, wringing his hands and talking slowly, with slurred speech. When reporters told him they knew he was faking, he dropped the act and bragged about how much money he made.

In less than 24 hours, video shot by WLEX photographer Brian Gilbert posted on YouTube went from 60 views to 60,000, Pflum said. By Thursday, it had been viewed more than 500,000 times.

Tens of thousands of people shared the story from the LEX 18 Facebook page, and hundreds of thousands of people shared links on Twitter.

Although viewers might be skeptical of Thompson's apology, "I really do believe that there was a sincere regret and remorse for what he's been doing for the past several months," Pflum said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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