LAKE MARY, Fla. – A father tearfully apologized Tuesday for acting like a bully himself when he stormed onto a school bus to confront students he believed were harassing his 13-year-old daughter who has cerebral palsy.
James Willie Jones is seen angrily gesturing and yelling at students and the bus driver on video taken by an onboard camera. Footage of the tirade has drawn thousands of views on YouTube, sparked numerous comments on social media sites — many of them supportive — and become a topic on national talk shows.
A day after saying he was sorry in a written statement, Jones held an emotional news conference in which his voice cracked as he said no parent should copy his behavior.
"At that time, I was a bully. And I apologize again for that," said Jones. "If you see the tape, I feel like I was backed up against the wall as a parent. I just didn't know where else to go. We definitely don't want to promote that.
"We don't want vigilantes going on buses, threatening kids, because kids have rights too."
Jones was charged last week with disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function for the Sept. 3 tirade in Sanford, just north of Orlando. He later posted $2,000 bail and was ordered to stay away from the driver and county school buses.
His attorney, Deianna Brown, said she is hoping to get the charges dropped or reduced, and she's offered to have her client give speeches against bullying as community service.
Jones, 42, had also apologized for his behavior in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday, saying his daughter suffers from cerebral palsy and he "could not stand by and helplessly watch her suffer." He said Tuesday she will not return to the middle school.
Jones' wife, Deborah McFadden-Jones, said they noticed a change in their daughter's behavior since school began this year. She left messages with a school guidance counselor, she said, but never heard back.
McFadden-Jones said at the news conference that their daughter's condition isn't noticeable, and she was bullied for standing up for another girl.
"She's a beautiful young lady who would give her last if she has it," McFadden-Jones said, crying. "And she would step in for others who have been bullied or been pushed around, and that's where it started. She was helping someone else, and it turned on her and there was no one there to help her out."
Jones told deputies that boys placed an open condom on his daughter's head, smacked her on the back of her head, twisted her ear and shouted rude comments at her, according to the sheriff's office report.
Jones said Tuesday that the condom actually was intended for another young girl, but that some fragments hit his daughter and that her head was wet. Still, he said she has been teased, spit on, pulled, poked and pushed — and that she had an emotional breakdown after describing the harassment.
School spokeswoman Regina Murray Klaers said in an e-mail last week that Jones did not express concerns to school administrators about his daughter but did report an incident involving another girl. That incident was investigated and appropriate action was taken, Klaers said.
Jones said he has received e-mails, phone calls and other messages of support from people around the country.
On Tuesday, some parents in the area said they understood his desire to protect his daughter, but disagreed with how he acted on his emotions.
"I can sympathize a little, but the fact is he broke the law," said 47-year-old David Kristoff, a father who lives in Orlando. "And he probably horrified other kids in the process."
Christine Powell, a 38-year-old mother from Orlando, was more sympathetic.
"I don't think anybody would disagree with what he was trying to do," she said. "He just went about it awfully."