Bullied to tears by teenagers on a school bus where she worked as a monitor, a New York state grandmother will be getting the vacation of a lifetime thanks to the fundraising efforts of a Toronto man.
The episode, an illustration of the powers of the Internet to hurt and then redeem, began when Max Sidorov saw a video of the bullying that had gone viral.
Mr. Sidorov then went online to raise money to comfort the woman and, by early Friday, raised more than $450,000 and turned himself and the bus monitor into global celebrities. The money was intended to pay for a trip, but the sum is so large that she could use part of it for her retirement, he said.
"It's been bigger than I ever thought. It's almost insane," Mr. Sidorov said in an interview Thursday morning. "I just had an idea. People just took it and ran with it."
The 10-minute video, one of at least three similar clips uploaded to YouTube, shows students taunting Karen Klein, a 68-year-old bus monitor at Greece Athena Middle School, near Rochester.
The kids cackled at her girth and her sweating, saying "You're so fat" and "Look at all this flab here."
The video, which has been viewed by more than a million viewers on YouTube, was posted by someone who said the footage was initially on Facebook.
"I really felt for Karen because I have some experience myself with bullying," Mr. Sidorov said.
Ms Klein, who has also worked as a bus driver, said on NBC that she hopes parents learn a lesson from the video.
"I do hope the parents see this." Ms. Klein said. "And they can talk to their kids and tell them to be a little more respectful."
Now a 25-year-old nutritionist and York University graduate, Mr. Sidorov was born in Ukraine and immigrated to Canada when he was nine. He recalled being picked on when he attended elementary school in North York because he was smaller, poorer and spoke English with an accent.
Online feedback to Mr. Sidorov's initiative was glowing.
"Thank you so much for restoring my faith in decency and humanity," a Chicago woman wrote.
"You've turned a horrible act into something wonderful!" wrote New York blogger Salvatore Constantino, who donated $100.
Ms. Klein also expressed surprise at the massive outpouring of support online, driven by websites like Reddit and Twitter.
"I'm so amazed," Ms. Klein said. "I've gotten the nicest letters, e-mails, Facebook messages. It's like, wow! There's a whole world out there that I didn't know."
Ms. Klein's son, Brian, was also shocked by the reaction, which has included people dropping flowers and strangers calling with kind words.
"She's overwhelmed by all the support she's been getting," Mr. Klein said of his mother.
The bullying was especially hurtful, he said, because some of the children alluded to his late brother's suicide, mockingly blaming it on Ms. Klein.
In a statement, the Greece Central School District confirmed four Athena Middle School students participated in the incident, and promised that "disciplinary action to the fullest extent appropriate under New York Education Law will be taken against all involved."
The statement also said it would be inappropriate to provide specifics on any consequences the students might face.
"I'm hoping these kids will learn a lesson from this," Mr. Klein said.
With a file from The Associated Press