UPDATED: An Excelsior Springs woman has canceled a protest to support a Maryville teenager, and instead decided to hold a rally for the girl, plus a candlelight vigil for others who are still seeking justice.
Courtney Cole has had a busy week. She began the week outraged at the story of a girl who claims she was raped at the age of 14, then run out of town when she reported the incident. A whirlwind of organizing, a Twitter campaign and constant phone calls, however, vindicated her efforts as the Nodaway County Prosecutor relented and agreed to have a special prosecutor appointed.
Cole, a local native, first heard about the alleged victim, Daisy Coleman, when her friends sent her numerous links to news coverage about her case. Coleman reported being raped and left outside in sub-freezing weather, and said the case against her politically-connected attacker was dismissed.
Further, the town of Maryville turned on the family—Daisy’s mother lost her job, Daisy herself was removed from the cheerleading squad and the family ultimately decided to move. Before their house sold, it burned down, and no cause has been found.
Charges against the suspect, a 17-year-old football player who happens to be the grandson of a former state representative, and another 17-year-old who allegedly recorded the alcohol-fueled sexual encounter were dropped, according to the prosecutor because of a lack of evidence and a lack of witness cooperation.
But that wasn’t good enough for Cole.
After reading the initial article her friends sent to her, the matter weighed heavily on her mind.
”After I read it, I went to bed and couldn’t sleep,” Cole said. “I kept thinking, ‘What can I do to bring justice to the situation?’”
She realized the girl’s name, Daisy, was the perfect symbol of peace—and peaceful protest.
“Court dates for Nodaway County are on Tuesdays and I thought we could have a peaceful demonstration holding daisies and try to have the prosecutor, Rob Rice, reopen the case,” Cole said. “I wanted to get the event out there right away and wanted to provide him with an opportunity to do something.”
She started spreading the word. Her efforts earned an appearance on the Buzzfeed Web site. The computer hacker/activist group Anonymous has also become involved in the situation.
However, she cautioned fellow protestors to keep things peaceful. The suspect in the case is now a student at the University of Central Missouri, and other students there were thinking of causing him harm.
“I told them not to, because it would make him a victim, but instead to wear daisies,” Cole said. “Students contacted me and said the daisies around the school, and the idea to wear them around him, was blowing up.”
She said she contacted the prosecutor’s office and informed him that they would be flooded with calls until he either reopens the case or turns it over to the attorney general.
State officials ranging from lawmakers to executive branch members also began calling for the case to be reexamined. House Speaker Tim Jones called on Attorney General Chris Koster to intervene, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder urged Koster and Rice to revisit the case. He also asked for officials to join him in a call for a grand jury to determine whether charges should be filed.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cole said, there was a breakthrough.
“I heard that Rob Rice was going to have a statement at 5 p.m.,” she said, adding that she hoped it wasn’t just another delay. Instead, Rice announced that he was turning it over to a judge from the Fourth Circuit to appoint a special prosecutor.
“This special prosecutor is supposed to examine all the evidence from before, along with new evidence,” Cole explained, noting that there is DNA evidence from a rape kit that wasn’t available during the first go-around.
That made her protest at the Nodaway County Courthouse next Tuesday morning “null and void,” she said.
“So I canceled it,” Cole explained. “Justice had happened, and that was my goal.”
However, not everyone agreed, and some still wanted some kind of demonstration. As a result, Cole revamped her original plan and instead of a protest at the courthouse during the day, there will now be a “rally for justice” at 6 p.m., so students and working people would be able to attend. Afterward, there will be a candlelight vigil for all those seeking justice, or for those who never got it. These events will take place at the Nodaway County Courthouse in Maryville.
“As fellow Missourians, it is our duty to hold accountable those responsible for injustice in our state and for the two young women who were abused because of it,” Cole said. “Ultimately I just want the case reopened and justice served.”
Twitter users can follow Cole’s efforts at #Justice4daisy. She has also been providing updates on the case on her Facebook page.
By Eric Copeland • firstname.lastname@example.org