Two months ago a video of a young East Tennessee boy went viral after what his family describes as the breaking point of bullying at his school. That video was viewed millions of times on Twitter and Facebook and sparked support from celebrities and athletes around the world.
But as fast as Keaton Jones became a household name, things crumbled. People began to question family photos that contained a Confederate flag and controversy swirled around a GoFundMe account.
A lot of the support quickly turned to hate and death threats. We talked to Keaton and his mother, Kimberly, recently to see how he is holding up and to find out why the family now has an attorney.
Keaton has not returned to his school, but he says he’s not going to stop spreading his message.
“This is a platform. You don’t get this opportunity every day, I can’t turn away now,” Keaton said.
Keaton’s family says the bullying hasn’t ended, in fact, it reached levels they never could have imagined.
“It went from being bullied in school to being bullied in every corner to the world saying something negative about it,” the 12-year-old said.
Those negative comments popped up after family pictures surfaced that included a Confederate flag There was also a stir over a GoFundMe account and reports that people were posing as Keaton’s mother asking for money and gifts on social media.
The family is now working with Attorney Jarrod Casteel from Butler, Vines and Babb.
“We are certainly pursuing all legal avenues,” Casteel said, “There is a lot that has happened.”
Casteel would not elaborate on any litigation. So who, if anyone, is responsible for things going so terribly wrong? Their lawyer tells us the family was backed into a corner and made the video as a last resort.
Others say Keaton’s mother should have never posted this video to begin with.
We asked Kimberly Jones if she had any regrets.
“Obviously,” she said, “I mean not just for Keaton, my oldest daughter and my youngest daughter… I mean there are obvious regrets and obviously repercussions.”
The online backlash and hatred in the days to follow led to Keaton’s oldest sister skipping her final week of high school. Two months later its clear to see Keaton and his mother are still struggling with the fallout, each taking the blame.
And in all of this, let’s not forget the original message. Keaton says he wants to keep talking about the real problem, bullying and to help others any way he can.
“I didn’t do it for me,” he said. “I did it for people who are bullied so they know they aren’t alone.”
Keaton hopes to continue to spread that message and he may have some help including from that much-talked-about GoFundMe account. The family has not taken any money to date, but their attorney says they are working with another lawyer to put that money into a trust for Keaton’s continued education or an anti-bullying campaign.
In the meantime what has happened to all that Hollywood support? The family’s attorney says most have backed away from their online pledges. But he added support from UT athletes like Jarrett Gaurantano has been incredible.
The Union County Director of Schools said he can’t discuss the educational records of a student – because of federal and state law.