Published June 23, 2012
An online feel-good fundraising effort for a bullied bus monitor has surpassed half a million dollars — and is growing.
As of early Saturday, more than $605,000 has been donated to Karen Klein, a 68-year-old grandmother of eight who appeared on a 10-minute video earlier this week being berated and bullied by four seventh-graders on a bus operated by the Greece Central School District, near Rochester, N.Y. Klein has also been offered a trip to Disney Land with nine guests by Southwest Airlines, FoxNews.com has learned.
"We are so happy the nation has rallied around Karen, but also deeply saddened that it happened because of such a horrifying video," Southwest spokesman Brooks Thomas wrote FoxNews.com in an e-mail. "We didn't do it for the coverage ... It was just the right thing to do."
Max Sidorov, a 25-year-old Toronto man who started the online fundraising drive, said he started the campaign after seeing the video online.
“It was just sickening to see, it’s disgusting what these kids were doing,” Sidorov told FoxNews.com Friday. “I felt very, very bad for Karen. I know how tormenting it can feel to be bullied. The best thing I decided to do was to send her on a vacation away from there.”
Sidorov briefly spoke to Klein, of Rochester, late Thursday and would “love” to meet her sometime, he said. The amount of donations has exponentially exceeded his initial goal of $5,000.
“I’m shocked that people are so kind and so generous to take this to such heights,” Sidorov told FoxNews.com. “I’m really proud of a lot of people and it warms my heart they’re willing to support this cause.”
The four students, including a police officer's son, hurl repeated insults and threats at the grandmother, calling her fat and at one point suggesting that her children commit suicide. Klein told "Fox & Friends" during an appearance Thursday that her eldest son did, in fact, take his life 10 years ago.
"I did not hear that part then, but yeah, it was uncalled for, that's for sure," Klein told host Steve Doocy.
Representatives at Indiegogo.com told FoxNews.com that they have been in contact with Klein. The campaign will continue through July 20 and it's unclear whether she'll have to pay taxes on the amount.
"Any amount raised will go directly to her," a spokeswoman told FoxNews.com.
An IRS spokesman declined to comment Friday on whether Klein would be obligated to pay taxes on the donations, saying tax requirements vary depending on the individual. The donor, however, is generally responsible for paying the gift tax, according to IRS.gov.
“Under special arrangements the donee may agree to pay the tax instead,” the website reads.
Klein, meanwhile, has worked in the school system for more than 20 years as a bus driver and now a bus monitor. Klein said she wants to return to her job, but on a different bus route and with an apology from the students, MyFoxBoston.com reports.
The outpouring of support for Klein follows a recent surge in awareness of bullying that has brought the issue from the classroom to the stage and screen to the White House.
Capt. Steve Chatterton of the Greece Police Department said Klein informed investigators that she will not seek criminal charges against the four students from Athena Middle School in Rochester.
"Obviously we are upset with what we saw in the video, both as parents and police officers," Chatterton told reporters during a press conference Thursday afternoon. "But at this time, she has decided she does not want to press criminal charges."
In New York, Chatterton said in order to charge a 13-year-old in Family Court, the alleged crime must a misdemeanor or a felony. Harassment is a violation and does not meet that threshold, he said.
"So we're still working … on whether it rose to the level of a crime," he said, adding that Klein has expressed she'd prefer if school officials mete out punishment.
The four boys seen in the video have not denied their role in the incident, Chatterton said. Investigators have spoken to all four of them, as well as their parents.
"No one has denied accountability," he said.
Greece Central School District officials, meanwhile, promised to discipline the four students to the "fullest extent" allowable following an extensive investigation.
John Auberger, the town supervisor of Greece, N.Y., a town of roughly 100,000 residents, said officials have received calls from across the country regarding the incident.
"We too are outraged by the actions of this group of students," Auberger said, who commended Klein's restraint as seen on the video.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.