MARYVILLE — A northwest Missouri community where large, energized crowds are more commonplace on college football weekends was bracing Tuesday for an Internet-organized rally on behalf of a girl who says she was sexually assaulted nearly two years ago when she was 14.
Daisy Coleman'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.
She claims that a popular 17-year-old plied her with alcohol, sexually assaulted her and then dumped her off near her home in sub-freezing temperatures in January 2012.
The story struck a nerve when Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice dropped felony charges against the alleged assailant and a second 17-year-old who recorded the incident on his cellphone. Rice has said the family stopped cooperating, which the family denies, and that there was not enough evidence to move forward with the case.
The Star story sparked a social media storm that included threats against Nodaway County and Maryville officials by the Internet hacking group Anonymous, which also promoted Tuesday night's protest. Participants were encouraged to bring daisies as a symbolic gesture of support for Coleman.
The Associated Press generally does not name alleged victims of sexual assault but is naming the 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.
Courtney Cole, a women's rights activist from Kansas City, said she came up with the idea for the protest after reading The Star's account. After she announced the event on social media, Anonymous contacted her and got permission to help promote it, which she said made it go viral.
After Rice announced last week that he was asking for a special prosecutor to take a new look at the case, Cole changed the tenor of the event and move it back to 6 p.m. so more people could attend.
"Because the situation has changed and Rice has done the right thing, there is no reason to protest," Cole said. "We would look like bullies. So we changed it to a rally to provide support for victims and families and create an awareness of the rape culture society we live in."
Nodaway County commissioners decided last week to close the county's administration building and courthouse Tuesday because of the event. Sheriff Darren White said the city would be setting up portable toilets and podiums on the square to accommodate the protesters.
White said he has heard rumblings there would be a counterprotest but didn't have any details. Everybody has the right to come out and speak their minds, he said, as long as they respect the rights of people who disagree to speak theirs too.
Melinda Coleman, Daisy's mother, issued a statement Monday night praising Maryville, the school district and even coaches of the two who had been accused in the case for supporting her family.
Coleman, who has indicated she did not plan to attend Tuesday's event, asked that participants remain peaceful.
"I do not condone violence in our defense," Coleman wrote. "I don't want others terrorized as we have been."