KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Keaton Jones has said he's been bullied most of his life.
His first tormentor appears to have been his now-estranged father, 37-year-old Shawn Aaron White.
White pleaded guilty in 2007 to assaulting Keaton's mother, Kimberly Jones, and in 2008, to attempted aggravated burglary after he was arrested for trying to break into her North Knox County home while threatening to kill "her and everyone in her family, including the children," according to an arrest warrant.
He was sentenced to three years in prison.
White also has been arrested on charges that involved harassing and stalking Kimberly Jones and her mother in 2011, threatening to kill Jones while seemingly reaching for a gun, and wishing death upon Keaton in 2006 when the boy was 7 months old and in poor health, according to arrest warrants. Those charges were ultimately dismissed.
White is now in prison after being convicted in 2012 of aggravated assault against another woman, who appears to be unrelated to the Jones family.
'Why do they bully?'
Keaton's story of being bullied at Horace Maynard Middle School in Union County drew international attention after Kimberly Jones posted on Facebook a video of him tearfully recounting how kids poured milk on him, stuffed food down his clothes and made fun of the way he looks.
Keaton's question — "Why do they bully?" — provoked emotional responses from an eclectic mix of celebrities, including Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber, and, Keaton's favorite, "Captain America" actor Chris Evans.
The stars shared their own experiences with bullying and offered messages of love and hope to Keaton. They extended him invitations to attend movie premieres, sporting events and exclusive tours.
The story grew complicated, however, when photos posted by Kimberly Jones on Facebook made the rounds on social media. They showed Keaton standing among family members holding Confederate battle flags.
Some Internet users leveled accusations of racism against Kimberly Jones, sparking a debate about interpretations of the Confederate battle flag and whether the son's anti-bullying message should be tainted by the mother's displays.
Some strangers even claimed Keaton had been bullied for espousing racism in Maynardville — a city whose population of roughly 2,500 was about 95% white in 2016.
No evidence has surfaced to suggest that is true.
In an interview given to CBS News on Tuesday, Kimberly Jones admitted to posting the photos of family members with Confederate flags, but disputed the accusations of racism, calling the posts "ironic" and "funny."
"I've spent most of my life being bullied and judged because I wasn't racist," she said.
'All we have is our mom'
According to court documents, Jones once told authorities that White, who was described as her ex-boyfriend, claimed to be a member of the Aryan Circle, a Texas-based white supremacist prison gang.
White's tattoos read, "PURE BREED," "WHITE PRIDE," and "CWB," an abbreviation for "Crazy White Boy," which often refers to white gangs.
White has posted photos of Keaton and his sister on his Facebook page. But Twitter user @Lakyn_Jones — who has identified herself as Keaton's sister — said she and Keaton have no relationships with their fathers.
"You all can go look back at every tweet from every father’s & mother’s day to see that all we have is our mom," she said.
"We have no contact with our dads. BECAUSE of their actions. That’s why all the articles say 'estranged' because we don’t talk to them."
As Keaton's story went viral this week, some online accounts began raising money, purportedly for the Jones family.
One GoFundMe campaign, started by a stranger, raised more than $57,000 before funds were put on hold as GoFundMe worked to ensure the money would go to Keaton.
His mother, however, issued a statement Wednesday to a local TV station, saying the family "has no intentions of collecting any money from any GoFundMe."
"I would ask that any money collected through the kindness of strangers, be given to one or more verified anti-bullying campaigns or foundations in an effort to raise awareness, & give help to all victims of bullying," her statement reads.
Kimberly Jones, whom the News Sentinel has not been able to reach, made her Facebook page private on Monday.
Lakyn Jones recently made her Twitter account private, too, and changed her bio on the site from "yes I'm Keaton's sister," to, "Life Goes On."
© 2018 USATODAY.COM