Karen Klein says she has been enjoying a "wild ride" since a video of her being bullied by students on a school bus in Greece, N.Y., went viral, spurring sympathetic online donors led by a Toronto resident to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in her name.
The saga has brought with it intense media interest. But Klein, who was in Toronto on Tuesday to collect a cheque for $703,833, says the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
"It's just been wonderful," she said at a news conference. "I've enjoyed meeting lots of nice people, and I hope that kids learn from what happened to me."
The 68-year-old has since retired from her job as a bus monitor, which earned her a salary of roughly $15,000 a year. But she isn't "planning anything huge" with the money, other than possibly getting her modest home re-carpeted.
She also plans to donate some of the money to organizations that work with special needs kids, explaining that she has a granddaughter who has Down syndrome and a grandson with autism.
She said she still hasn't watched the 10-minute video of her being bullied on a bus trip during the last day of the school year in June, but others have watched it 1.3 million times to date.
Max Sidorov, a 25-year-old Toronto nutritionist, was so affected by the students' actions in the video that he decided to launch an online fundraising campaign in June through the website Indiegogo. His goal was to raise $5,000, but the total quickly grew, drawing donations from more than 30,000 people in at least 84 countries.
On Tuesday, Sidorov presented Klein with the cheque.
"I didn't want to let this go; I wanted to do something for this woman," he said. "As we can see now, the world has rallied around and donated a lot of money to send her on a dream vacation, and maybe even retirement."
Sidorov said he hopes Klein's story will motivate people to keep up the fight against bullying in all forms.
Klein has been able to take a number of vacations since the saga began, she said, thanks to the media interest it has garnered.
"I mean, I came here," she said, laughing. "I went to New York City to be on the Today Show; I went to Boston to be on a radio show."
'I'd like to talk to the boys and ask them why they did it.' —Karen Klein
Klein also travelled to New Orleans, a trip she said that country singer Tim McGraw paid for, and travelled to California "thanks to Anderson Cooper," she said.
"After all this is said and done, maybe I'll take a nice little vacation by myself," Klein quipped.
The cellphone video that put Klein on this path shows her trying to ignore a stream of profanity, insults and threats from the seventh-grade boys, who have since been transferred to an alternative-education school.
Klein recalled trying to shut the students out of her mind as they called her names. Eventually, she appears to break down in tears.
In the video, one student is heard saying: "You don't have a family because they all killed themselves because they don't want to be near you."
Klein's oldest son killed himself 10 years ago.
She hasn't spoken to the students responsible for tormenting her, but wants to know what made them berate her.
"I'd like to talk to the boys and ask them why they did it," she said. "My message to them [is] don't do it to anybody. It doesn't matter if it's an adult or a child, just don't do it. Be nice to people."
One of Klein's daughters, Amanda Romig, accompanied her mother to Toronto and said she remembers watching the bullying video for the first time. Romig said it made her angry, but she also felt proud that her mother handled the situation calmly.