Even when she dressed up as a princess for Halloween, Katie opted for the one from Star Wars. So when the first-grader told her mother she no longer wanted to take her beloved Star Wars water bottle — which incidentally matches her Star Wars backpack — to school, and instead asked to take a pink bottle, Carrie Goldman's mommy radar went off.
"It didn't make sense," the Evanston, Ill., mom said.
After some coaxing, Katie, 7, told her mom what a few boys had said to her at lunch one day a month ago. "They were saying that only boys like Star Wars. Girls don't," Katie said.
Then the bright-eyed, chess-playing, ballet-bowing little girl cried. It was enough to make any parent's heart break.
Her mother reminded her it was okay to be different, to which Katie, who is adopted and the only one in her class who wears glasses and sometimes a patch for a lazy eye, responded, "But it's not okay to be too different."
Goldman's heart sank. She knew the boys who were taunting her daughter. They were good kids. They were getting older, though, and starting to see what made people the same — and different.
Goldman, an artist who blogs for ChicagoNow, posted the story online with the title "Anti-Bullying Starts in First Grade."
"Is this how it starts?" Goldman wrote in her blog, Portrait of an Adoption. "Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?"
A few days later, in Orlando, Jen Yates read Goldman's blog. Yates remembered what it was like to be the weird kid at high school. She was the teen who hit Star Trek conventions on weekends and got snide comments about it the rest of the week. She was the lone geek girl among her friends.
"I know a Katie,'' she said. "I was Katie."
So Yates did what any geek would — she went back to her computer.
"My fellow geeks," she wrote on her blog, Epbot.com, "I need your help. I just read this article about little Katie being bullied by her classmates for carrying a Star Wars water bottle to school. She's only in the first grade. This, my friends, cannot stand."
Later that day, Catherine Taber — the voice of Padme Amidala on Star Wars: the Clone Wars — clicked on Yates' post.
"I immediately had to say something," Taber said. "The whole theme of the Star Wars universe is an antibullying theme. It's good versus evil, standing side-by-side with your friends, doing what's right.''
Taber found Katie's mom's blog and left a comment: "I just wanted to tell Katie that she is in VERY good company being a female Star Wars fan. I know that Padme would tell you to be proud of who YOU are and know that you are not ALONE! THE FORCE is with you Katie!"
Katie's story soon went viral. Thousands of people left messages on Goldman's blog. Readers were coming from Yates' blog, where more than 3,000 comments stacked up. There were links from Star Wars message boards, parenting blogs, tech sites. A Twitter hashtag, #maytheforcebewithkatie, streaked across social media.
"It touched an innate goodness in people," said Goldman, 36.
Each night, Katie read a few of the encouraging comments aloud.
"You are awesome and cool for loving Star Wars!" one wrote. "Be true to who you are," said another. And a few shared variations of "I am totally jealous of your water bottle."
Guys and gals of all ages wrote about how they had been bullied, and how life had gotten so much better since then. They shared that they wore glasses, that they were adopted — just like Luke, just like Leia, just like Katie.
ThinkGeek, a nerdy online retailer, sent Katie a lightsaber. Artist Scott Zirkel sent a cartoon of Katie as a Jedi, glasses and all. A first-grade class in California sent letters to Katie as a show of support.
The PTA president at Katie's school posted her mom's blog on the school's e-mail list, and the father of another first-grader sent his daughter to school clad in a Star Wars shirt. The girls sat together at lunch. The next day, Katie swapped out the pink bottle for her trusted Star Wars one.
Friday, thousands of people across the nation wore Star Wars gear as a sign of support for Katie. The stunt was suggested by a Facebook member; about 20,000 people signed up.
Friday was a special day, too, at Katie's school — Proud To Be Me Day. The boys and girls were encouraged to wear something that shows what they're interested in, whether it's princesses, sports, animals and anime.
Katie had her Star Wars water bottle.
This report contains information from the Chicago Tribune, CNN.com, ChicagoNow.com.