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Anonymous yesterday launched a campaign of vigilante justice over yet another high school jock sexual assault scandal.
It's becoming an all-too-familiar narrative. The otherwise-sleepy middle American town in the spotlight this time around is Maryville, Missouri, where former high school football player Matthew Barnett, the grandson of former Missouri state Rep. Rex Barnett, was accused of sexually assaulting a highly intoxicated 14-year-old girl named Daisy Coleman, while a 15-year-old boy was accused of doing the same to the girl's 13-year-old friend. A third boy, Jordan Zech, admitted to recording one of the incidents on a cellphone. Daisy's mother later found her sprawled on the front porch of her house in a semiconscious state, her hair frozen and her shoes and possessions scattered in a neighbor's yard.
That cold January night in 2012 was only the beginning of the nightmare for the Coleman family, who told their story in an in-depth feature in the Kansas City Star on Sunday. Daisy's mother, Melinda Coleman, who allowed the press to use her daughter's name, told reporter Dugan Arnett that in the weeks and months following the incident, Daisy and her family members were spurned and bullied and eventually run out of town. Later, the Coleman's house in Maryville, which was on the market, mysteriously burned to the ground. Fire officials haven't determined the cause of the blaze. The Star reported that despite many of the facts in the case being largely undisputed—the boys said they had sex with the girls and admitted to leaving Daisy "outside in 30-degree weather"—Robert Rice, the Nodaway County prosecutor, dropped the felony sexual assault and misdemeanor child endangerment charges against Barnett and a felony sexual exploitation charge against Zech.
Rice told the Star the charges were dropped for lack of evidence and other information that came to light. "There wasn't any prosecuting attorney that could take that case to trial," he said. But the 15-year-old boy admitted to having nonconsensual sex with Daisy's friend, was charged as a minor, and made a plea deal to serve several months in a juvenile facility, according to local public radio station KCUR.
Now Anonymous, the amorphous collective of online activists, pranksters, and hackers, is on the case. The group is credited with bringing national attention to cases like this through internet and social-media campaigns. It's also responsible for sometimes employing questionable, borderline illegal tactics to expose the people they think are to blame. Such was the case in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high school football players were accused of raping a girl. An offshoot of Anonymous gained access to private social-media accounts and leaked videos and photos that revealed the identities of many high school students who were caught talking about the rape on camera but were never charged with crimes. Though the group's intentions may have been in the right place, Anonymous' tactics also swept up the victim in its crusade for justice, exposing her identity to the world. Yesterday, the group released a statement announcing their campaign #OpMaryville and #Justice4Daisy:
We demand an immediate investigation into the handling by local authorities of Daisy's case. Why was a suspect, who confessed to a crime, released with no charges? How was video and medical evidence not enough to put one of these football players inside a court room? What is the connection of these prosecutors, if any, to Rep. Rex Barnett? Most of all, We are wondering, how do the residents of Maryville sleep at night?