WASHINGTON - A video of a boy tearfully talking about being bullied at school has gone viral and prompted an outpouring of support from Hollywood celebrities, music stars, athletes and others.
Keaton Jones's mother posted the video Friday on Facebook, writing that her son asked to make it after he had her pick him up from school because he was afraid to go to lunch.
It has since been viewed 22 million times and shared more than 440,000 times.
"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What's the point of it? Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to 'em? It's not OK," Jones says in the video.
"They make fun of my nose, they call me ugly, they say I have no friends... (they) pour milk on me and put ham down my clothes, threw bread at me," he says.
"I don't like that they do it to me and I for sure don't like that they do it to other people, 'cause it's not OK," Jones says, tears running down his face.
"People that are different don't need to be criticized about it - it's not their fault. But if you are made fun of, just don't let it bother you - just stay strong," he says, adding: "It'll probably get better one day."
That day may have come sooner than he expected.
Chris Evans, the actor who plays Captain America, invited Jones to the premiere of the next Avengers film.
"Stay strong, Keaton. Don't let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better," Evans wrote on Twitter.
"While those punks at your school are deciding what kind of people they want to be in this world, how would you and your mom like to come to the Avengers premiere in LA next year?"
Stay strong, Keaton. Don’t let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better. While those punks at your school are deciding what kind of people they want to be in this world, how would you and your mom like to come to the Avengers premiere in LA next year? https://t.co/s1QwCQ3toi— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 10, 2017
'Overwhelmed' is an understatement
Rapper Snoop Dogg encouraged Jones to get in touch with him by direct message.
"Say lil Man U gotta friend in me for life hit me on dm so we can chop it up love is the only way to beat hate," he wrote in an Instagram post.
"Keaton-Don't waste time wondering why a bully would be so mean-They're sad people who think hurting others will make them feel better because they really don't like themselves," tweeted Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the blockbuster space saga "Star Wars."
Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White invited Jones to its headquarters.
"This video is heartbreaking!! I want to bring Keaton to Vegas and hang out at UFC Headquarters," White tweeted.
And Delanie Walker, who plays tight end for the Tennessee Titans, posted a video on Twitter in which he invited Jones and his family to the football team's game on December 31.
The response has been overwhelming for Jones's mother Kimberly.
"Friends, overwhelmed is the understatement of the world right now. I love each of you for what you are doing, but there is literally no way I can respond or even read all of the messages," she wrote in a follow-up post.
The video and other posts are no longer visible on her Facebook page.
But the school's principal Greg Clay told the local Knoxville Sentinel newspaper he was unaware of the bullying and incident described in the video.
"It's not as rampant as the video would have you believe," Clay told the paper. "I can't tell you what was done, but I can tell you action was taken with the children."
Despite the flood of support for Keaton, the story took a turn after social media posts allegedly from the boy's mother surfaced.
An Instagram account in the name of Kimberly Jones showed pictures of children - one of whom looks like Keaton - carrying Confederate flags, considered by many as symbolic of the country's racism.
The boy's older sister Kalyn assured the Instagram posts were not from members of her family and denied any alleged racism.
Despite prevention campaigns, 40 percent of US students say they have faced bullying at school, according to a June 2017 studied published in "Pediatrics."