MARYVILLE, MO. -- A day after a special prosecutor was named to re-investigate a northwest Missouri teen sexual abuse case, a modest crowd of a few hundred 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 January 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.
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 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.
Rice last week asked for a special prosecutor to take a new look at the case, and 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. start, there appeared to be as many media members and law enforcement officers as there were rally participants.
Portable toilets were set up on the north and south sides of the courthouse, while the streets on all sides were roped off in preparation for a crowd that organizers thought might reach into the thousands because of the publicity the case has received.
But the crowd stayed relatively small, with some attendees sporting Northwest Missouri State University jackets.
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. The bulk of their messages was drowned out by a Kansas City news helicopter that hovered overhead during most of the event, which Cole acknowledged when she asked participants to wave their daisies overhead.
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. The heavy law enforcement presence, including roughly two dozen Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers, was in place though the event remained tranquil.
Sarah Kellison, 27, of Shenandoah, Iowa, said read the Star story after a friend posted it on Facebook and it struck a chord because of similar abuse she suffered as a child.
“When I was 16 I was taken advantage of and that was very difficult for me,” she said. “I didn’t tell my friends or family. When I read the story about Daisy, she had the courage at 14 to have her name printed, to come out and say what happened to her.”
Nodaway County commissioners decided last week to close the county’s administration building and courthouse Tuesday because of the event. Sheriff Darren White said Tuesday after the rally that he would rather overprepare for an emotionally tinged gathering rather than be caught off-guard if trouble would have started.
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.