School bullies threw rocks at their young child, while calling him a monster, a freak and telling him he was ugly - all because he has a condition which causes him to look and sound different.
Seven-year-old Jackson Bezzant's self-esteem dropped so much that he wanted to wear a mask to school to cover his face and he talked about killing himself. His parents, Dan and Kelley Bezzant, a divorced couple who live in Ammon, Idaho, didn't know what to do to stop the bullying.
What his father ultimately did wound up attracting widespread attention. Even more important, they think it helped.
Jackson looks different than other kids because he has Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic condition that affects bone and tissue development in the face. People with Treacher Collins, like Jackson, have very small jaws and chins, unusually formed ears, and eyes that slant downward.
Jackson also suffers from a 74 percent hearing loss. When he speaks, says his father, Dan, 42, he sounds like he's underwater. Others have trouble understanding him. He was born without cheekbones and underwent facial reconstruction when he was 13 months old, his mother Kelley, 43, said.
His family, of course, loves him and was shocked by the bullying. Jackson, like any other kid, enjoys playing soccer, football and throwing around a frisbee.
"I didn't think it was possible for kids this young to have these perceptions of other people," his sister Madisen Bezzant, 18, said of the bullying.
His mother Kelley said, when they go to public places, like a mall, Jackson "does get looks." She believes he recently reached an age where he's more aware of it.
"Last year he was happy-go-lucky, but in second-grade he's starting to notice," she said.
His mother figured out quickly that the bullying in school was becoming severe. Jackson, who lives with his mother, usually wears hearing aides and glasses. But once he started second grade, he refused to do so. "They're not cool," he told his mother. The other kids will "make fun of me."
Even worse, Kelley told The Washington Post, Jackson came home recently saying he wanted to wear a mask to school so the bullies "can't see my face and it hides my eyes."
Kelley, through her tears, took the mask off of Jackson and said: "Oh no, Jackson, buddy, you don't need that mask. You look so handsome the way you are."
"I did not allow him to take the mask out of the house because I didn't want him to be ashamed of who he was," she said. Jackson's mask was an imitation of the Jason Voorhees hockey mask from the horror movie "Friday the 13th."
The next day, during breakfast in the school cafeteria, bullies picked on him again, Kelley said.
"It's very hard to live with," Kelley said.
Jackson had also talked about not going back to school at all, and about killing himself, Kelley said.
She was heartbroken.
On Thursday night, "I called my ex-husband crying saying 'This is going on and I don't know what to do and I just want him to feel normal and loved and accepted for who he is."
After he got off the phone, Jackson's father Dan decided to take to Facebook. As he composed his message, he sobbed, he told The Post. And in his anguish, this is what he wrote:
"My heart is in pieces right now. . .my soul feels like it's ripping from my chest. . .This beautiful young man my son Jackson has to endure a constant barrage of derogatory comments and ignorance like I've never witnessed."
"He is called ugly and freak and monster on a daily basis by his peers at school. He talks about suicide. . .he's not quite 8! He says he has no friends and everyone hates him. Kids throw rocks at him and push him shouting these horrific words. . .please please take a minute and imagine if this were your child. Take a minute to educate your children about special needs. Talk to them about compassion and love for our fellow man.
"His condition," Dan went on, "is called Treacher Collins. Maybe even look it up. He's endured horrific surgery and has several more in the coming years. Anyway. . .I could go on. . .but please educate your children. Please. . .share this. This shouldn't be happening. . .to anyone."
The message went viral, with neighbors and strangers reaching out with words of support and encouragement for Jackson.
One person told Dan he had met Jackson at a YMCA football camp and had an idea: "I have reached out to the team captains for Hillcrest football team and they would like to come to Jacksons school and have lunch with him. Would that be OK with you?"
Another person said she could not imagine the sadness Dan, as a parent, was going through but had some uplifting news: "I hope you both have seen there are good people who care and I know my boys, 7 and 6, would absolutely be friends with you Jackson"
Sunday night, two neighborhood boys and their mother walked over with a card, a fidget spinner and toy cars for Jackson. The boys had never met before, but the neighbors wanted Jackson to know they were there for him.
"Hey bud, I hope that some of the hard times you are going through will end," one of the boys, a middle schooler, wrote on a card. "I personally went through some hard times myself and sometimes you just have to stand tall and do what you want to do and be who you want to be. If you ever need anything just come over."
The other boy, Kelley said, goes to Jackson's elementary school. As the two boys told Jackson they would watch out for him at school and he could play with them any time, Kelley said her son's face lit up.
On top of that, they picked up about 30 letters in the mail Monday, all for Jackson, and they keep reading through the thousands of Facebook comments.
"This post has changed Jackson's life for the better," Kelley, 43, said. "He's got a little sparkle back in his eye and he says 'mom, everybody does love me.'"
The outpouring of support from people who read the Facebook post has been unexpected and far-reaching around the world, Dan, Jackson's father said. He hopes that parents read Jackson's story and teach their own kids about love, understanding and compassion.
"I just really hope that the message gets out there about bullying," Dan said. "It's bigger than Jackson. It's everywhere."
Despite his newfound confidence, Jackson told his mother he still didn't want to go to school this week. He had not been back since last Thursday's Facebook post and he was nervous.
Even so, he went. Jackson's teacher told Kelley that all the kids were kind to him and by the time he came home, Kelley said, Jackson seemed happy.
When Kelley asked Jackson how school was, he replied: "At recess, I had 165 friends."
His parents make no claim that Jackson's difficulties are over. But for the moment, they say, he is filled with pride.
At least for now, Kelley said, "he just has some joy to him."