Courtesy Jill Stahl Struckman Evan Struckman dressed as Tony Stark
Tony Stark said it best: "Following's not really my style."
Recently, a 10-year-old boy from Missouri is taking his favorite superhero's lesson to heart after getting bullied for his Halloween costume.
Jill Struckman tells PEOPLE her son Evan was "really, really excited" last Friday morning as he prepared to go to school dressed as Tony Stark for a class Halloween party.
The proud mom of four snapped photos of her youngest and shared them on Facebook before sending Evan on his way to school. But her son's confidence was soon shattered when he stepped onto the bus and was told by his classmates that "he looked stupid," Jill says.
"20 minutes after he got on the bus, I got a phone call from school letting me know he was in the office and some kids had said mean things to him," Jill recalls. "He wanted to be picked up and he was really, really upset."
Courtesy Jill Stahl Struckman Evan Struckman posing like Tony Stark before school
Jill says her son was so hurt by their comments that "he had gone straight to the bathroom after getting off the bus and washed his face to get all the makeup off." He also didn't want to stay for the Halloween party he was once so excited for.
"I had never heard him that heartbroken over something someone had said about him before," she says. "He's the kid who will go to picture day in a tuxedo or business suit, and usually lets things roll right off his shoulders."
After picking her son up from school, Jill opened up about the incident on Facebook, posting a teary photo of Evan, sans makeup. "Here's what my little Tony Stark looks like now," she wrote.
"We both have swollen eyes from crying and are on our way to try to find ice cream. Kids need to understand that WORDS hurt," she added in the post, which went viral and has been shared over 258,000 times.
Courtesy Jill Stahl Struckman Evan Struckman after he was bullied at school
The pair eventually made their way to Starbucks, where Jill says they chatted about what had happened and how Evan was feeling.
"He knew he looked great, he just let what they said get to him," she says. "They told him that everyone would think it looked stupid and that weighed on him."
"I just said, 'You know you look awesome, so why are you letting their opinions hold you back? You're gonna miss your party over their opinions? Maybe they're just jealous!' " Jill continues. "Finally, I said, 'Do you want to go back?' and he said, 'Yes!' "
Within an hour, Jill says her son's spirts were lifted, he had his face makeup redone and was back at school.
"He was a little scared, but as soon as we walked in the office door, all the ladies, who hadn't seen his makeup, said he was so cute," Jill recalls. "He got a lot of positive attention right away... and by the time he got off the bus later that day, he was just happy as could be."
The mom, who posted about Evan's triumphant return to school, adds that the kids who bullied him were later "dealt with by the school and apologized to him."
Courtesy Jill Stahl Struckman Evan Struckman outside his school
As she reflects on the experience, Jill says she has "never been more proud" of Evan for returning to school and refusing to let the bullies win.
"Evan even learned from this. He's never gonna be that kid who hurts someone else's feelings," she says. "He's normally not affected by what other people think and say... so the fact that it bothered him so badly just broke our hearts."
After several of her posts went viral, Jill says people from around the world have been reaching out to share similar stories.
"Once it really took off, I apologized to him. It made me sick to my stomach because I didn't know it would be received in that way," she admits. "But he actually was comforting me the other day and said it was okay that I shared that picture because that shows people what it looks like whenever you get bullied."
Users have also been tagging Downey Jr. in the comments, in hopes that Evan's favorite superhero will catch wind of his story.
"Evan would love that," Jill says. "But he's mostly really happy that he's making a difference and inspiring others to be brave... We're all overwhelmed with the love and support."
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Though she does not want people to donate money — "I think it's amazing how sweet people are but Evan really doesn't need it. If you want to donate please instead make a donation to a charity or just do a good deed," she wrote in a Facebook post — Jill says they are open to receiving letters.
The mom of four also hopes other parents and children can learn from Evan's story — and his inspiring resilience.
"Words are important. I almost didn't write 'bullying' in the post because he wasn't physically hurt, but it does hurt. Words hurt, they matter," Jill says. "If you see it happening, stand up for the kid who's getting teased."
"We've all been there, that's why this has gone viral. It resonates with everyone," she adds. "It's every mother's worse fear, their kid getting hurt... but this has restored our faith in humanity. To see so much love has been so nice."
Those interested in sending Evan a card can address it to: "Jill Struckman, PO Box 362, Cottleville, MO, 63338".