KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The heartwarming story of a bullied East Tennessee boy who received support from around the world grew more complicated Monday as fake social media accounts solicited donations and some internet users leveled accusations of racism against the boy's mother.
Kimberly Jones took a video of her son Keaton, a sixth-grader at Horace Maynard Middle School in Maynardville, tearfully describing how other kids poured milk on him, put ham down his clothes, made fun of how he looks and teased him for having no friends.
The video, posted by Kimberly Jones on Facebook just after noon Friday, racked up more than 18 million views and provoked emotional responses from an eclectic mix of famous actors, athletes, musicians and journalists until Jones made her Facebook account private early Monday amid intense scrutiny.
Confederate battle flags
The controversy centers in part on screenshots of an alleged Facebook post by Kimberly Jones that Internet users said they captured before she made her account private.
The post rails against Americans who are seen as protesting the American flag and contains pictures showing family members holding the Confederate battle flag. Keaton appears in one photo, holding an American flag and standing next to another boy who is holding a Confederate battle flag.
My heart goes out to anyone dealing with bullying, but wassup with the racist images on Keaton Jones' mom's facebook page? Wouldn't that kinda make her a bully too? pic.twitter.com/I86SzRvjLq— Slink Johnson (@slinkjohnson) December 11, 2017
Some called Kimberly Jones' alleged post racist and said they no longer had sympathy for Keaton. Others said the mother's alleged views did not color their opinions of the son and his anti-bullying message.
The USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee has been unable to reach Keaton or Kimberly Jones for comment. A knock at the door of a home in Luttrell owned by a "Kimberly Jones," according to state property records, went unanswered Monday afternoon. No vehicles were in the driveway. Several chickens and dogs ran loose in the yard.
After screenshots of the Confederate battle flag post were shared, Twitter user @Lakyn_Jones, who says she is Keaton's sister, tweeted, "My family will continue to support each other. You all can hate and tweet all you want but our faith cant (sic) be shaken."
"Those who know me and my family know we aren’t racist," a second tweet reads. "My brother doesn’t say the 'N' word. Please leave it alone."
That Twitter account did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
Others try to cash in
Over the weekend, as celebrities offered to fly Keaton and his mother across the country to attend movie premieres, sporting events and exclusive tours, several Instagram accounts surfaced that claimed to belong to the pair.
The bio of one such account, @_taylormadeq, said it was run by Keaton's mother and provided a link to a PayPal account where donations could be made. The profile picture appeared to be a photo of the Jones family.
The private, verified account's profile picture and bio were removed just before 5 p.m. ET Monday. Then, just before 7 p.m., the profile picture was changed, the account's display name was set to "tre," and the bio read, "Selling verified pages dm (direct message) me to buy!"
A separate, unverified and public Instagram account, @kimberlyjones_38, was soliciting donations Monday through both PayPal and a now-defunct GoFundMe campaign titled "Give My Son a Good Christmas."
Joe Schilling, a professional mixed martial artist, posted a video on Instagram to 146,000 followers and tagged that account in the caption.
Schilling said in his video that he "felt pretty moved" by Keaton's message, so he reached out to what he thought was the mom's account and offered to invite Keaton to an event in Los Angeles.
"She just wants money. She just wants me to share her GoFundMe account," Schilling said, adding that he asked why. "She said, 'Christmas is coming and I'm a single mother and blah blah blah, money is tight,' whatever. ... Make your own judgment on that."
In a second post, Schilling shared a screenshot of messages he exchanged with the @kimberlyjones_38 account. The operator of that account asked him, "What happened to us whites sticking together and helping one of (sic) another against the predator?" In his caption, Schilling acknowledged that the account might be fake.
That account apparently had been deleted as of 6:10 p.m.
Lakyn Jones tweeted that @kimberlyjones_38 was not her mother's account, and said, "She has a private Instagram and hasn't talked to anyone. We haven't received any money and don't plan on it. The gofundme's aren't by any of us."
The Instagram KimberlyJones_38 is NOT my mom. She has a private Instagram and hasn’t talked to anyone. We haven’t received any money and don’t plan on it. The gofundme’s aren’t by any of us.— Lakyn 🎄 (@Lakyn_Jones) December 11, 2017
A GoFundMe campaign titled "Stand up for Keaton" was started over the weekend by a man named Joseph Lam. A spokesman for GoFundMe described Lam as a "stranger" who "wanted to help Keaton after the video was posted online."
The campaign raised $57,484 — its goal was $20,000 — before Lam "turned off donations," the spokesman, Bobby Whithorne, said in an email.
GoFundMe is working with Lam "to ensure the funds go to Keaton," Whithorne said.
"When a stranger starts a campaign and does not have a direct connection to the individual they’re raising money for, funds are collected by our payment processors, held, and then only released only to the person named as the beneficiary. All funds are on hold until we’ve received additional information from the beneficiary of the campaign," Whithorne said.
"There was a separate GoFundMe active for a short period of time, but we removed it from our platform before it raised any money because of fraud concerns. The identity of the campaign organizer did not match anyone associated with the family."
Follow Travis Dorman on Twitter: @travdorman
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