Aug. 28, 2013 at 8:52 AM ET
If character is what you do when no one is watching, a group of William Paterson University freshman football players proved the saying true.
On Sunday, the manager of Buddy’s Small Lots in Wayne, N.J., was alerted by police that there had been a break-in at the store. Video surveillance footage showed four young men entering and then leaving with several items in hand. However, a closer look at the footage caught the men on tape doing the right thing: Leaving the exact money for the items, tax included, at the register.
The honest shoppers, Thomas James, Anthony Biondi, Kell’e Gallimore and Jelani Bruce, were rewarded with $50 of free merchandise by the store’s managers. The players spoke about their story on TODAY Wednesday.
“(We’re) just ecstatic knowing that one good deed blew up nationwide and now everyone’s hearing about it,’’ Biondi told Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Tamron Hall.
“My dad keeps calling saying, ‘Oh my God, you really did that?’’’ Bruce said.
The lights in the store were on because of a quirk in the lighting system and the door lock was broken, according to the store managers. Thinking the store was open, the players waited for a clerk to appear, not realizing they had tripped the alarm.
“We were scared,’’ Bruce said. “Honestly, we thought it was a Halloween gag or something. We thought someone was going to come out and say, ‘Ah, gotcha! Welcome to the store.’’’
The men had stopped in between preseason practice sessions to pick up a $4 pack of batteries and a $1 audio cable for dorm speakers.
“We had to get back to practice, so they just showed the money to the cameras, put it down and we just left,’’ Biondi told TODAY.
The store’s vice president rushed over after police reported a break-in, only to be pleasantly surprised.
“His jaw dropped when he realized these kids did do some shopping, but that they paid for everything that they took,’’ store manager Marci Lederman told TODAY. “I think it's terrific that there are still people out there that have moral character not to do the wrong thing when they easily could.”
Word soon spread about the good deed, and it appeared on a local newscast.
“Soon as I went on my laptop, it was like right there, front page, and I was just excited,’’ Gallimore said. “I was like smiling because I was like, ‘Oh I'm famous.’’’