By Meaghan M. Mcdermott, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle
ROCHESTER, N.Y. - For the past three days, the shattered glass of a broken iPad has been Karen Klein's window to the online world.
There, and on television, the 68-year-old school bus monitor has watched herself make international headlines and be interviewed multiple times about the video that shows her being taunted and harassed by middle school students on a bus.
"I still can't believe this is all about me," Klein said Friday on the porch of her Greece home. "I see me on the TV or the front page of the newspaper and wonder, 'Who is that woman?'"
With the fruits of an online fundraising effort, Klein will be able to buy a replacement iPad and much more.
Within just three days, the fund on crowd-funding site Indiegogo.com that was set up to help send her on a nice vacation has surpassed $500,000 and is still climbing. More than 25,000 people have donated.
When told Friday how much the fund had amassed, Klein teared up.
And that's not the only outpouring of sympathy and compassion the grandmother of eight has received. She's been deluged with thinking-of-you cards, bouquets of flowers, gift cards and all kinds of other offers.
On Friday, Greece police gave her apology statements written by some of the boys whose taunting was captured on the video.
The Democrat and Chronicle is not fully identifying the boys or their parents because of death threats the families have received.
"I feel really bad about what I did," wrote Wesley. "I wish I had never done those things. If that had happened to someone in my family, like my mother or grandmother, I would be really mad at them."
Josh wrote: "I am so sorry for the way I treated you, When I saw the video, I was disgusted and could not believe I did that. I am sorry for being so mean and I will never treat anyone this way again."
The boys' parents also apologized.
"It made me cry to see how cruel my son and the other boys were being to you," wrote Wesley's mother. "I am deeply sorry for what my son did. I wish there was some way to make it up to you."
Luis' father wrote: "We apologize, from the bottom of our hearts, on what happened. We wish this will never happen again, to nobody and from nobody."
Klein said she isn't sure she believes the apologies. "They were so brief and to-the-point," she said.
"One of the fathers came over (Thursday) and gave me a hug and apologized in person; I'm sure he was sincere."
Klein said she's still not sure whether she's in a strange dream.
The fundraiser was launched by 25-year-old Max Sidorov of Toronto, who was moved by the brutality displayed in the video.
Sidorov launched the fund drive on the site Indiegogo.com, with modest goals. In an interview with the National Post newspaper in Canada, the kinesiologist said he was astonished at the generosity of complete strangers.
"It is ridiculously more than I expected," Sidorov said. "I just had an idea. It's the people who took it and ran with it."
The vacation fund aside, Klein can take her pick of free trips to Disneyland and Disney World, Disney cruises, Hawaii trips, a weeklong all-expenses paid spa stay and more. Someone wants to give her a new car. Someone else wants to take her on a helicopter trip. A Hollywood agency wants to talk to her about a book or movie deal.
"It all doesn't feel real," said Klein, as yet another television van parked in front of her house Friday afternoon to set up for a live broadcast and she waited for a telephone interview with the BBC. "You know, when I see that cash in my hand I'll believe it."
Indiegogo spokeswoman Rose Levy said the company would ensure Klein gets the money.
Doug Hendee, vice president and sales manager at Brighton Securities, said Klein is liable to pay taxes on the value of whatever straight-out gifts she accepts and would have to declare that amount as income.
For example, if Klein accepted $500,000 all at once, she would have to set aside 45% of those funds for tax purposes. However, if any of the gifts are coming through a foundation or trust, she would not owe any tax on those amounts, Hendee said. If money is coming from a foreign country, that also complicates matters.
Klein said she would take steps to protect herself and set aside any money needed for taxes.
The spotlight and outpouring of community sympathy continues to shine on her.
Locally, The Mall at Greece Ridge plans to honor Klein on Saturday afternoon with a $500 shopping spree and basket filled with products from several stores. The mall will also honor area school bus drivers and monitors this weekend.
With the money that's been raised, Klein could take her entire family on the trip of a lifetime. Or she could book a discount spaceflight for two, via Virgin Galactic.
And with 29 days left in the fundraising campaign, the sky's the limit.
(Contributing: Victoria E. Freile)
Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle