MARYVILLE, Mo. - A day after a special prosecutor was named to re-investigate a northwest Missouri teen sexual abuse case, hundreds of people braved chilly conditions Tuesday night to show support for a girl whose story has drawn worldwide attention.
The rally on Maryville's courthouse square was organized over the Internet by a women's rights activist from the Kansas City area who used social media to garner support for Daisy Coleman, who said she was 14 when a 17-year-old boy gave her alcohol and sexually assaulted her in 2012.
Daisy's story generated new attention and an outpouring of responses on social media following a Kansas City Star investigation. The family also spoke out earlier this summer to Kansas City radio station KCUR.
Melinda Coleman, Daisy's mother, claims justice was denied when Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice dropped felony charges against the 17-year-old boy in March 2012, two months after Coleman found her daughter passed out on the family's front porch in below-freezing temperatures. The mother also has said the family had to move from the small town of Maryville because of harassment over the allegations.
The Associated Press generally does not name alleged victims of sexual assault but is naming Daisy because she and her mother have been granting public interviews about the case. The AP is not naming the two who had been accused in the case because there are no active charges against them.
The case has drawn comparisons to one in Steubenville, Ohio, where two 17-year-old high school football players were convicted of raping a West Virginia girl after an alcohol-fuelled party in 2012. The case was furiously debated online and led to allegations of a coverup to protect the city's celebrated football team.
The incident in Maryville happened in January 2012, after Daisy and a 13-year-old friend left the Colemans' house in the middle of the night to meet some boys. Daisy's 13-year-old friend also said she was forced to have sex with a 15-year-old. The 15-year-old was charged in the juvenile system.
The county sheriff and Rice have insisted their investigation collapsed after the Colemans became unco-operative with investigators and refused to answer questions. Coleman says she and her daughter did co-operate and that investigators didn't do enough to push the case forward.
Rice stood behind his earlier statements but said last week that he was asking a court to appoint a special prosecutor because of publicity surrounding the case and recent media stories questioning the integrity of the justice system in the county.
On Monday, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker on Monday was given that assignment.
More than 2,300 people indicated on the Facebook page for the "Justice for Daisy" rally that they were attending. But 10 minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. Monday start, there appeared to be as many media members and law enforcement officers as there were rally participants.
Courtney Cole, who organized the event over social networks and got a boost from the Internet hacker group Anonymous, said she wasn't bothered by the modest turnout and pointed to the dozens of reporters scattered around the gathering conducting interviews.
"Even a small turnout is OK," she said. "Just moving the case along makes it a success."
Cole and three other speakers stood at a podium on the northeast corner of the square and used a bullhorn to get their message out that sexual abuse of women is not acceptable.
A second podium set up on the southeast corner of the courthouse for a possible counter-rally to show support for the accused boys stood unused.
Melinda Coleman, Daisy's mother, issued a statement Monday night praising Maryville, the school district and even coaches of the two people who had been accused in case for supporting her family.
Neither Coleman nor her daughter attended the rally.