Caught on tape: Students make bus monitor cry
(CNN) — A profanity-laced video of middle school students in upstate New York verbally abusing a bus monitor is sparking an outpouring of support as strangers worldwide rally to her side.
Students taunt Karen Klein, 68, with a stream of profanity, insults, jeers and physical ridicule in the back of Bus 784. Some boys demand to know her address, saying they want to come to her house to perform sexual acts and steal from her. Another says, “You’re so fat.”
One comment from a boy aboard the bus appears especially painful. He tells her that she does not have family because “they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.”
Klein’s oldest son took his own life 10 years ago, according to CNN affiliate WHAM.
The bullying continues unabated for about 10 minutes in the video, as a giggling student jabs Klein’s arm with a book. Recorded on by a student with a cell phone camera on Monday — the students’ second-to-last day of school — the brazen example of bullying went viral and spurred international outrage.
The incident occurred in Greece, New York, near Rochester. Klein is a bus monitor for the Greece Central School District, and the harassers hail from a district middle school, the school district said Thursday on its website, although it did not identify Klein.
In interviews, Klein described her tormenters “regular, normal kids” and said that “one on one, they’re OK.”
“Just don’t get a bunch of them together. That’s when the trouble starts,” she said.
As the intimidation unfolded, she said, she tried her best to disregard the harassment and didn’t hear everything that was uttered. But she said the hazing hurt deeply. At one point, she said, she told two children, “I am a person, too. I shouldn’t be treated this way.”
No charges have been filed against the boys in part because, “at this point, (Klein) has decided that she does not want to press criminal charges,” Greece Police Capt. Steve Chatterton said Thursday. He stressed that the investigation is continuing and that the bus monitor could change her mind.
He explained that a juvenile must face a felony or misdemeanor to be charged in family court, while harassment only qualifies as a violation.
The police captain said that Klein told police she didn’t hear some threats that can be overheard on the video and furthermore that she would not have felt threatened, had she heard them.
“I’ve gotten e-mails from the United Kingdom (and) from all over the United States saying prosecute, prosecute,” Chatterton said. “I feel it. I feel it.
“But we have to follow the law. We can’t tailor the law to meet this case because of public outrage.”
The bus driver himself seemingly wasn’t aware of the bullying, with Chatterton saying the male driver appeared “very genuine” when he saw him apologizing to Klein on Wednesday morning.
The police captain added that the four students pinpointed in the video, all of them seventh-graders, spoke to police “voluntarily’ and without lawyers present.
“As one father put it, his son is sitting back, waiting for his punishment,” Chatterton said. “No one has denied accountability, and they’ve taken responsibility for their actions.”
The video prompted an outpouring of support and a fundraiser by an international crowd-funding site that had gathered more than $313,000 Thursday afternoon.
“Let’s give Karen a vacation of a lifetime. Let’s show her the power of the internets and how kind and generous people can be,” the fundraiser’s organizer, identified as Max S., said on the indiegogo.com website. He notes that she earns about $15,000 a year as a bus monitor.
“Everyone at indiegogo was so proud this morning to see Karen Klein on television talking so bravely about her experience and we hope that this indiegogo campaign contributes positively to the important national discussion about bullying,” indiegogo’s CEO, Slava Rubin, said in a statement.
The organizer was joined Thursday by a woman identifying herself as Klein’s daughter, Amanda.
“I have spoken with Max and with Indiegogo and we just want to thank you so much for your support,” the woman wrote on the site. “We are completely overwhelmed.”
The school district said its bullying team and the local police are conducting an investigation.
“We have discovered other similar videos on YouTube and are working to identify all of the students involved,” the school district said in a statement.
It did not elaborate on whether the additional videos are related to Klein’s case, though school officials say they were all apparently posted by the same user.
“While we cannot comment on specific student discipline, we can say that students found to be involved will face strong disciplinary action,” the school district said.
The students are minors, according to the school district. CNN does not name minors involved in alleged crimes unless they are charged as adults.
They and their family members have been subject to death threats since the video went viral, with one person even prank-calling a nearby police department to report that one of the family had been taken hostage, according to Chatterton.
“We have custody of one of their cell phones, and he had over 1,000 missed calls and 1,000 text messages threatening him. And he is 13-year-old,” the police captain said. “That must stop.”
Klein said she hopes the spectacle “might help other people.” And, she said, she hopes that these children “get their share of someone bullying them.”
“I hope what goes around comes around,” she said.
CNN’s Stephanie Gallman, Greg Botelho, Darrell Calhoun and Randi Kaye contributed to this report.