Chris Parker came to Manchester Arena as an anonymous beggar, positioning himself near the crowd of exiting Ariana Grande fans in hopes that he might pocket some spare change.
He left the arena distraught after having witnessed the kind of carnage more typically seen in fields of combat.
Sometime in between, the 33-year-old homeless man became a hero, a symbol of hope in a stunned nation craving exactly that.
In turn, Parker and another homeless rescuer are being rewarded for their daring actions, though the devastation they encountered left them scarred.
Parker told the Press Association that life changed the moment he "heard a bang," then "a white flash" followed by smoke and the sound of screaming.
"It knocked me to the floor and then I got up and instead of running away my gut instinct was to run back and try and help," he told the wire service. "There was people lying on the floor everywhere.
"I saw a little girl . . . she had no legs," he added. "I wrapped her in one of the merchandise T-shirts and I said, 'Where is your mum and daddy?'"
He is haunted by what he encountered, he said.
"There were nuts and bolts all over the floor," Parker told the Press Association. "People had holes in their back."
"It's the screams I can't get over, and the smell . . . I don't like to say it, but it smelled like burning flesh."
There was also a wounded woman – "in her 60s," he guessed – who Parker tried to comfort.
"She passed away in my arms," he said. "I haven't stopped crying."
Police believe the violence was carried out by Salman Abedi, a young, Manchester-born suicide bomber. Authorities say 22 people – including an 8-year-old girl – were killed by the blast, and another 59 were injured, many gravely.
The Islamic State claimed that one of its "soldiers" carried out the attack, without providing details about the suspect or how it was accomplished. British investigators continue to search for links to potential accomplices as they try to determine responsibility.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called it a "callous terrorist attack" that "stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives."
Parker was not the only homeless man who rushed to the aid of concertgoers, according to reports.
He was joined by Stephen Jones, who had been sleeping outside the arena before rushing inside to help, according to the Press Association.
Jones told ITV News that he initially thought the loud bang was a firework. But he noticed women and children stumbling out of the venue screaming, their bodies covered in blood.
"There was a lot of homeless people that stayed there and helped and that's what we done," said Jones, a former bricklayer who has been homeless for about a year. "And obviously when we seen children like that with blood … having to pull nails and stuff out of their arms and I pulled one out of this little girl's face."
"If I didn't help I wouldn't be able to live with myself walking away and leaving kids like that," he said.
Since the harrowing accounts went viral, the public has rallied, raising money for both men online. A GoFundMe page that originally aimed to raise 1,000 pounds (about $1,300) for Parker rocketed beyond its original goal, with nearly 35,000 pounds donated in a single day.
"Thank you for helping those in need," Jessica Summerfield, who donated 50 pounds, wrote on the page. "Now it's our turn to help you."
The crowdfunding campaign also elicited a response from a woman claiming to be Parker's mother, who said she had lost touch with her adult son.
"This is my son and I am desperate to get in touch with him," Jessica Parker wrote. "We have been estranged for a very long time, and I had no idea he was homeless. I am very proud of him, and I think he might need me right now."
A JustGiving page set up to raise 25,000 pounds for Stephen Jones has raised nearly that much.
"This started out as a way to get Steve somewhere to stay," wrote Diane Moore, who launched the crowdfunding campaign. "Now, I think we can upgrade it to soewhere permanent to live!"
Jones told ITV News that his housing situation had no bearing on his actions.
"Just because I'm homeless, it doesn't mean I haven't got a heart," he said. "There's a lot of good people with Manchester who help us out and we need to give back too."