Video of bullied woman sparks fundraising by Toronto man: 'I felt deeply sad'

Associated Press

TORONTO - A viral video of a school bus monitor in New York state being bullied by four middle schoolers shocked a Toronto man and prompted him to launch a fundraiser to send the woman on vacation.

"I felt deeply sad for Karen," said Max Sidorov, a 25-year-old nutritionist and graduate of York University. "I had some issues with bullying myself when I was a young kid and had just come to Canada, so I know where she's coming from."

The taunting and verbal abuse of the bus monitor was captured in a 10-minute cellphone video recorded by one of the students and posted to YouTube. It shows 68-year-old Karen Klein trying her best to ignore the stream of profanity, insults and outright threats directed at her. At one point in the video, she breaks down in tears.

The video generated an outpouring of support for Klein that spread beyond the United States. By early Friday, visitors to the international crowd funding site Indiegogo.com had pledged more than $438,000 for the grandmother of eight.

"Maybe we can send her on a great, early retirement," said Sidorov.

Meanwhile, Klein has told police she does not want the boys to face criminal charges. She said she is happy with the swift and strong community response against the verbal attack aboard a Greece Central School District bus, authorities said Thursday.

Criminally charging the boys, all seventh-graders, would require their conduct to rise to the level of a crime, Greece Police Capt. Steve Chatterton said. So far, it has not been found to reach that level.

Klein said she hoped the boys' parents would view the video of the attack and talk to their children about being "a little more respectful." Parents of all four boys are co-operating fully and say their children will be punished, Chatterton said.

By Thursday morning, the video had been viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube.

Sidorov says he was the subject of teasing at school when he first immigrated to Canada from Ukraine at age nine because he was a small kid and he spoke and dressed differently from the other kids.

"I think we can do something positive and spread light on this issue of bullying around the world," he said.

But the internet backlash against Sidorov has already begun, with some accusing him of using the campaign to promote his own nutrition book.

Sidorov says he provided a link to the book on the campaign page for Klein because people kept asking how they could help him in return. He says he had no part in organizing a campaign started by another Indiegogo to reward Sidorov for his efforts.

"I had no idea. He just emailed me and said, 'I started a fundraiser for you.' I was so touched, I was almost crying," said Sidorov.

"People have seen a lot of selfish acts on the internet, so they're very wary when someone comes along and does something like this without wanting something in return."

Klein told NBC's "Today" show Thursday that it took "a lot of willpower" not to respond to Monday's jeers from at least four seventh- and eighth-grade boys riding the bus operated by the Greece Central School District, a suburban Rochester district that's the ninth largest in the state.

"I'm not usually that calm. Just ask my kids," Klein said during the interview. "I'm sure they don't act that way at home, but you never know what they're going to do when they're out of the house."

She expressed gratitude over the show of public support for her, however.

"I'm so amazed," she said.

"I've got these nice letters, emails, Facebook messages," Klein said. "It's like, wow, there's a whole world out there that I didn't know. It's really awesome."

The support for Klein follows a recent surge in awareness of bullying in the United States and Canada.

This year, the White House held a conference on bullying prevention, estimating that it affects 13 million students, or about a third of those attending school. President Barack Obama said he hoped to "dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It's not."

In April, the documentary film "Bully" examined the problem by following five kids over the course of a school year.

In Canada, Ontario this month passed anti-bullying legislation aimed at schools, despite opposition by Catholic educators and church leaders who took issue with provisions allowing students to call anti-homophobia clubs gay-straight alliances.

Some of Canada's leading experts on bullying expressed support for the new law and called for a national strategy to address what they consider an "epidemic.''

Klein didn't report the bullying, but school officials notified Town of Greece police when they learned of it. Police have questioned the students involved, but none have been charged.

The school district activated its bullying and violence prevention response team to investigate the incident.

At least two other videos showing Klein being taunted by students aboard a bus are known to have been posted online.

"We have discovered other similar videos on YouTube and are working to identify all of the students involved," according to a statement posted on the district's website.

--With files from The Associated Press

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