At 76 years old Willie Ray Young had never been arrested.
That is, not until last August when the neighborhood “junkman” known as “Papa” was stopped by a police officer after a resident reported him “stealing” items at the scene of a fatal house fire.
Young, who often went about the community collecting discarded objects like old bicycles, had a habit of repairing broken things and then distributing the refurbished goods to area kids and adults in need.
He was the Good Samaritan who helped keep his south Fort Worth neighborhood of Hallmark tidy.
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The day after the house fire, Young noticed a washer and dryer on the curb that had been damaged, and he loaded them on his truck. He came back the next day and removed eight pieces of thin metal pipes from a pile of rubble and a nearby barbecue grill with a burned-out bottom. That’s when someone assumed he was stealing the objects and called police.
When news of a theft got around, there was outrage among the neighbors — until they heard that the person accused was their beloved “Papa.” Then there was greater outrage that he had been arrested on charges of misdemeanor theft which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Those friends came to his aid, eagerly telling his story of benevolence and insisting that he would never steal anything.
He was so appreciative of their support and encouragement that he sent an item last month to this newspaper’s “Cheers & Jeers” section offering, “Cheers: To my wonderful family, friends and neighbors who supported me and understood my situation these past two months for attempting to do my job in my neighborhood. It has been a very stressful time, but I know that with everyone’s help and prayers, everything will be OK.” It was signed, “The Junkman.”
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board was among those calling for the charges against Young to be dropped, and last week the district attorney’s office did just that, allowing him to get on with his life and continue cleaning up his community.
In this case, that was the justice required.