The international band of Internet activists known as Anonymous has chosen the rural Missouri town of Maryville as the target of its latest campaign, after the Kansas City Star published a powerful examination of a possible rape case that went unprosecuted by local authorities.
Known for successful hacks of organizations ranging from the Church of Scientology to PayPal to the government of Brazil, Anonymous released a statement on Monday in which a synthesized voice warns Mayor Jim Fall and other officials to “expect us.”
“If Maryville won’t defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them,” the voice declares, according to the text of the statement.
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The action is a response to reporter Dugan Arnett’s deep dive into a case that began in the wee hours of Jan. 8, when 14-year-old Daisy Coleman (her name was published at her mother’s behest, because she wanted to bring her daughter’s story to light) and a 13-year-old friend climbed from a bedroom window to join an older boy, Matthew Barnett, at his house. At the time, Barnett was a 17-year-old senior on the Maryville High School football team. Daisy, a freshman cheerleader, was delighted by the senior boy’s attentions, and ignored her older brother’s advice to steer clear of him, Arnett reported.
Barnett, the grandson of former state representative Rex Barnett, later admitted to police that he knew the girl was drinking at his house and that he had sex with her while she was drunk (this was recorded on a friend’s iPhone). Other witnesses told authorities that he loaded the girl, in tears, into his car and left her unconscious on her front porch in subfreezing cold. When her mother found Daisy the next morning, her hair was frozen.
A Kansas City radio reporter, Peggy Lowe of public radio station KCUR, has also done compelling work on the story.
Nodaway County sheriff Darren White told the Star that he “absolutely” expected the case to end up in court. “Within four hours, we had obtained a search warrant for the house and executed that. We had all of the suspects in custody and had audio/video confessions.”
Instead, the charges were dropped, much of the town turned on the Coleman family, Daisy’s mother Melinda was fired from her job, and — after the Colemans left town — their house burned down under suspicious circumstances. Melinda Coleman is not the only one wondering whether the prominence of Barnett’s family had something to do with the decision not to prosecute.
Anonymous played a role in publicizing a similar case in Steubenville, Ohio. One of the hacktivist members, later identified as Deric Lostutter, produced a message accusing local officials of attempting to cover up the rape of a 16-year-old girl by two members of the high school football team.
Among other actions, the loosely affiliated membership hacked the football team’s website — sparking an FBI investigation of Lostutter.