The pebble was tossed when a middle-school student in upstate New York posted a 10-minute video on his Facebook page.
The video, showing four other seventh-grade boys cruelly taunting 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein, was quickly uploaded to YouTube.
And the ripples began.
Millions of viewers from around the world watched her humiliation. There were cries of indignation and sympathy, retribution and recompense. Through posts on social media and the user-generated news site Reddit.com, word spread geometrically, leading to a fund drive that began with a modest goal of $5,000 to help Klein take a nice vacation and scrub the foul memories of the last days of school from her mind.
By Friday afternoon, the drive had sailed past $550,000, with donations from more than 25,000 people.
Even in an increasingly connected, fast-moving world of information flow and echo, the response to Klein’s plight is a stunning example of the power of people in the new media era.
“Oh, my God,” Klein told the Associated Press in an interview Thursday, when the total was around $370,000. She said it was “weird, very weird” to suddenly be an international celebrity and joked she’d have to go out in public disguised by a wig and dark glasses.
“I appreciate everything so much,” she said. “It’s just hard to believe strangers, people I never talked to, never seen, will send me a message saying, ‘We love you, we think you’re a great person.’ ”
The verbal abuse was captured in a cellphone video recorded Monday by a student of Athena Middle School in the Rochester suburb of Greece. The video shows Klein trying her best to ignore the stream of profanity, insults and outright threats.
One student taunted: “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.
Eventually, she appears to break down in tears.
Max Sidorov, the 25-year-old Canadian man who started the fund drive on the site Indiegogo.com, said Friday that he was bullied when he came to Canada from Ukraine, so he empathized with Klein and likened the taunting to “attacking the little guy.”