A Greece school bus driver for 20 years and monitor for the past three, Klein can be seen on the video "Making the bus monitor cry" which went viral on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. The 10 minute compilation of verbal abuse includes putdowns like "fat ass," foul language, sexual taunts, physical threats such as stabbing, and much worse.
Rochester ABC affiliate WHAM had to censor much of the clip shown on the station's website.
It was a grim look at bullying but with a twist: Klein's abusers were one-quarter her age. The four perpetrators were all middle school boys younger than 16 according to Klein.
A predominantly white middle class suburb northwest of Rochester, NY, Greece is nestled amidst rolling hills and has one of the highest volume shopping centers in the country. The Greece school district embraces classical references, endowing its school buildings with such idyllic names as Arcadia, Apollo, and Olympia. It's hard to ignore the irony inherent in students from Athena Middle School -- named after the goddess of wisdom and war -- cruelly taunting a elderly female they see as stupid and powerless.
"I don't know what possessed them," Klein told WHAM reporter Patrice Walsh, speculating that the kids may have been excited about the end of school. Although some had "been kind of nasty" in the past, they had never been quite so vicious; "The week before I had told two of the boys go up to the front [of the bus] because they were being so obnoxious."
On Monday, however, the abuse escalated. The YouTube video shows Klein dressed in white slacks, a blue top, with wraparound sunglasses that fit over her prescription lenses. The kids begin by making fun of Klein's weight, repeatedly calling her fat ass, old ass, dumb ass. When she wipes her eyes, they taunt her for crying and mock her hearing aid.
One tells her he's going to "take a crap in your mouth" while another says he'll "come in your mouth." They ask her what size bra she wears: "Triple sag?" One teases, "How about if I bring my knife and f***ing cut you?" while another laughs and says, "If I stabbed you in the stomach, my knife would go through you like butter." At several points they poke at her.
Klein takes much of this stoically with arms crossed, face scrunched in obvious pain. She seems aware of the cell phone camera focused on her and asks, "Why don't you take everybody else's picture?" But Klein didn't know the phone was recording video until she learned it was on Facebook and was called into the bus garage to watch it. (The Facebook version has since been removed and is now on YouTube.) Only then did she realize the extent of the taunts and abuse.
As she told WHAM in an exclusive interview Wednesday, "I didn't hear everything they said....I've seen the video a couple of different times at work....I didn't like it, I didn't want to watch it."
"They were bullying you," WHAM's Patrice Walsh told the grandmother of 8. Klein clearly reins in her emotions, answering, "I tried to ignore them. That's why I didn't hear some of the stuff. I was trying to shut them out, but it doesn't work."
Klein thinks there should be some form of punishment for the boys but didn't believe they could be charged. She complained about the incident to her bus driver who was unable to hear what was said.
When asked if she'd be returning to her job as a school bus monitor, she told Walsh, "I'm off for the summer so that'll help." Klein rides a van in the morning with special needs students and says she loves to work with them. As for the middle school students in the afternoon: "One on one they're okay...just don't get a bunch of them together." Yet she expects to be back on the bus in the fall.
The video was posted on Reddit where Max Sidorov, a 25-year-old Toronto nutritionist, caught it and was deeply moved. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, it hit home for Sidorov: "I have some experience with bullying from when I was young and what they were doing to her was just heartbreaking." His impulse to help her got him thinking. As he told the Los Angeles Times, "The best thing that came to mind was starting a fundraiser to send her on vacation."
At 11 am on Wednesday, June 20, he launched "Let's Give Karen-The bus monitor-H Klein A Vacation!" on the crowdsource funding site Indiegogo with the goal of raising $5,000 in 30 days. Twelve hours later, he had raised over 15 times that amount and the number kept climbing. Sidorov was overwhelmed by the influx of funds: "It is just huge....I thought it would get a few thousand dollars, maybe. But maybe she could retire on this."
Klein too is surprised by the global response and money raised but simply says, "I hope that this might help other people." It's a quiet statement that makes no mention of the wound opened by one specific barb. As Walsh reported on the WHAM website:
One comment from a boy on the bus was especially hurtful because he said Klein "didn't have a family because they all killed themselves because they didn't want to be near you."
Klein's oldest son took his own life ten years ago.
Klein did what she could to head off the cruel remarks when they first took a nasty turn last week. After sending the two boys up front, "I said to two of them ... who were still in the back, "You know, I am a person too. I shouldn't be treated that way.'"
Because they didn't listen, the world now knows Karen Klein's story. So does the Greece Police Department which is investigating the matter.
Netburn, Deborah. "Bullied bus monitor gets $60,000 vacation, courtesy of Internet." LATimes.com. 20 June 2012.
McDermott, Meaghan M. "Greece bus monitor on bullying: 'It was just plain mean.'" Democratandchronicle.com. 20 June 2012.
"Raw Interview: Bus Monitor Karen Klein." 13wham.com. 20 June 2012.
Sidorov, Max. "Let's Give Karen - The bus monitor - H Klein A Vacation." Indiegogo.com. 20 June 2012.