A fundraiser for harassed Greece bus monitor Karen Klein, a video of whom went viral Tuesday, raised over $460,000 in 48 hours. The fundraiser's $5,000 goal was to send her on vacation.
A video of Greece students on bus 784 harassing their bus monitor with taunts and threats went viral on the Internet Wednesday morning, and people from all over the world sent emails to media outlets and the school district demanding justice.
The 10-minute-long video, titled “Making The Bus Monitor Cry,” shows at least four students harassing their bus monitor, Karen Klein, calling her a “troll” and threatening to break into her house and stab her. It was viewed nearly two million times in the 48 hours after it was posted.
“We are outraged by the behavior of this group of students and want to emphasize that the actions of a few do not represent the community as a whole,” Greece Town Supervisor John Auberger said at a press conference on Thursday.
Police and district officials have identified four students who participated in the harassment. All are in seventh grade at Athena Middle School.
“I am deeply saddened and embarrassed by the actions demonstrated by some of my students,” said Athena Middle School Principal David Richardson. “Disciplinary actions to the fullest extent will be taken against all those involved.”
District officials would not comment on specific disciplinary consequences the students may face, but did say the district must hold due process hearings when seeking suspensions of longer than five days.
The video was originally posted to a student’s Facebook page. Someone found it there and copied it to YouTube, “TO SHOW THE WORLD.”
It gained attention on the popular website Reddit, where it was posted late Tuesday night to a forum with nearly 1.5 million readers. The original post garnered over 2,000 comments. Internet sleuths discovered the students’ names and two similar videos, one titled "Bus Monitor Harassement," the other, "Bus Monitor Harrasement 2."
Contact information for school officials and local media outlets was posted to Reddit as well as the personal information of the students who were initially assumed to be involved.
"Something needs to be done about this, immediately," one email reads. "The children's parents need to be notified of such behavior and an appropriate punishment needs to be determined and executed."
An email from a political science and foreign affairs student at the University of Arizona was even more to the point.
"These kids need to be taught a lesson about bullying," he wrote. "It is not okay, period."
Sergeant Chatterton of the Greece Police said the accused students had since received threats from all over the world. One 13-year-old student’s cell phone, which police took for evidence, had logged over 1,000 threatening calls and text messages.
On Thursday, the Rochester Police Department received a call claiming the families of the accused students were being held hostage at gunpoint.
“That is not funny, that's a crime,” Chatterton said. “That's a form of bullying, and that makes everyone doing it no better than the four who did this.”
One of the threatened students whose information was put online had not even been on the bus the day the video was shot.
“Threats to overcome threats do us no good,” Chatterton said.
Chatterton said police will continue to investigate the case to see if criminal charges can be filed, but the incident must rise to the level of a misdemeanor for the students to be tried in family court. In New York, harassment is a violation.
Klein, a 23-year veteran bus driver and bus monitor, has since told police she was sweating, not crying. She also said she is hard of hearing and could not hear most of the taunting.
Chatterton said he could not move the case to the level of a misdemeanor because Klein told police she did not feel threatened by the student’s taunts.
“At this point, she has decided she's very happy with the route this case is taking through the school district,” Chatterton said. “At this time, she has decided she does not want to press criminal charges.”
Police said they will leave the case open so Klein can change her mind at a later time.
Meanwhile, the school district’s bullying response and prevention team has been activated and a school representative says all students involved in this incident will face disciplinary action when the 2012-13 school year begins in the fall.
A positive note
Not all reaction to the incident has been negative, however. Max Sidorov, 25, saw the video on Wednesday and started a fundraiser on the crowd funding website Indiegogo to raise money to send Klein on a vacation. The fundraiser's $5,000 goal was met within hours, and, as of Friday morning, had raised over $460,000.
Sidorov, who lives in Toronto, said he works with a mutual friend of Klein’s daughter and will transfer the money to a PayPal account for Klein.
“I don’t want a dime of Karen’s money,” Sidorov posted Wednesday to assure donors the money would go to Klein. “I’m already out in the open and pretty much the whole world knows who I am by now.”
Slava Rubin, the CEO and founder of Indiegogo, said Sidorov’s was one of the fastest campaigns the website has handled.
“I can only imagine what it will be like for her ... but at the end of the day what is even better than her vacation or her salary is the fact that all these people are galvanizing to talk about the issue,” Rubin said. “It's having a broader impact.”
The money will be a huge blessing for Klein who, at 68 years old, said she would love to go on a cruise, but that she might just retire.
“People care and you don't think that they would,” Klein said when asked what all the gifts and mementos meant to her.
As people in Rochester and worldwide respond to the video, it's Klein’s calm manner that has touched hearts. Flowers came in all day Tuesday, some from people she didn’t even know.
“It's scary getting all this attention,” Klein said.
—Includes reporting by News 10NBC