ORLANDO, Fla. – A Florida father who stormed onto a school bus and threatened children because his 13-year-old disabled daughter had been bullied is apologizing for the way he handled the situation.
James Willie Jones said in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday that he is sorry for his "inappropriate use of language and for the way I handled the situation." But he says his daughter suffers from cerebral palsy and he "could not stand by and helplessly watch her suffer."
"As a dad, my No. 1 priority is providing for and protecting my children," he said in a statement released to the AP. "Since the school year started, my wife and I noticed that our daughter had become increasingly distraught about school and riding the school bus, but she wouldn't tell us exactly why.
"As the involved parent of a child who suffers from cerebral palsy, it broke my heart. When I walked my daughter to the bus that morning, she broke down in tears and finally told me about the bullies who had tormented her on the school bus. She was afraid.
"In the heat of the moment, I wanted to confront the individuals who had bullied my daughter and the authority figure who failed to protect her. I sincerely apologize for my inappropriate use of language and for the way I handled the situation. As the protector of my daughter I could not stand by and helplessly watch her suffer."
Jones plans to hold a news conference with his attorney Tuesday to answer questions related to his arrest.
He was charged last week with disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function for the Sept. 3 incident 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.
The girl had to be hospitalized because of stress from the confrontation, Jones' attorney, Natalie Jackson, said last week. She said Jones told deputies he complained to Seminole County school administrators in the past but nothing had been done to help the girl.
School spokeswoman Regina Murray Klaers said in an e-mail that Jones did not express his concerns to school administrators. He did report an incident involving another girl, not his daughter, Klaers said. That incident was fully investigated, and appropriate action was taken, Klaers said.
Jones boarded the school bus because several boys were allegedly bullying his daughter, according to the sheriff's office report. He told deputies the 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, the report said.
Video surveillance from the bus — which fueled fodder on national talk shows — displays Jones asking his daughter to point out the students accused of harassing her. Jones is heard on the video threatening those who bully his daughter, and he also threatens the bus driver.
Jones said in the statement that he plans to advocate and raise awareness against bullying.
"Bullying has become an epidemic in our country," he said. "Even though some schools are adopting 'zero tolerance' anti-bullying policies, it hasn't eliminated the problem. Parents need to work with their children to let them know this kind of behavior is unacceptable and we all need to be aware of what's happening with our kids.
"I hope that there are lessons we can all learn from this situation. I know I have," he added. "It is my prayer that your children, whether disabled or not, will never have to endure anything like what my daughter went through."