Nash County deputy prays with panhandler: Touching moment goes viral in Facebook post

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A local social media post unrelated to concerns over COVID-19 went viral late last week.

Motorists spotted a Nash County sheriff’s deputy on the curb of a busy Rocky Mount intersection, kneeling down and praying with a panhandler.

The deputy, later identified as Spring Hope native William Toney, stopped to check on an unidentified panhandler on March 10. Then the two men knelt down and prayed.

Several motorists noticed the unusual action. Amanda Driver Pipkin posted a photo she took with her cellphone on Facebook. So far, the photo has more than 1,500 likes and hundreds of comments. Other people and law enforcement agencies shared the photo, picking up thousands more likes and shares.

The term viral comes from the word virus, which is a medical term used to describe a small infectious agent that can infect all types of organisms. It’s also a computer term, said Elise Moreau, a writer for the website Lifewire.

“On the internet, however, a piece of content can spread just like a virus if people become infected when they see it. The infection usually comes from evoked emotions that spur the viewer to share it, so they can relate with other people and discuss how they feel,” Moreau said.

In the past couple of days, the post jumped from Facebook onto websites for several news media outlets around the state from Charlotte to Wilmington.

People often think of videos when the word viral is mentioned, but any content on the internet can go viral, including photos, animation, an article, a quote, a tweet, a coupon, an event announcement or anything else, Moreau said.

Pipkin posted a thoughtful message along with the photo of Toney praying.

“We don’t always know what path life will take us, but I came upon this at the exit ramp and I am so blessed to know that we have such strong, spiritual law enforcement representing Nash County that aren’t afraid to park on the side of the road and pray with someone,” Pipkin wrote in her Facebook post.

Pipkin told the newspaper Sunday that she was on her way to pick up her daughter from preschool when she noticed the deputy’s vehicle.

“I was stopped by the stoplight and saw him kneeling down praying with (someone) and so I snapped the picture and not 5 seconds after I snapped it, they both stood up and patted each other on the back and said a few other words,” Pipkin said.

This story isn’t the first time a Nash County deputy has been singled out online for community service above and beyond the call of duty.

In August, off-duty Deputy Brooks Heath helped a family rescue their dog after it fell into a neighbor’s well.

In June while vacationing at Emerald Isle, Capt. Allen Wilson pulled a girl he didn’t know to shore as she struggled with strong ocean currents.

Last summer, Deputy Scott Bass facilitated the donation of a new bicycle to a woman who walked a dozen miles each day from her home in Rocky Mount to her job in Nashville and back again.

Sheriff Keith Stone said he has great deputies.

“Our core values are honor, compassion and diligence,” Stone said.