Daisy Coleman, Sexual Assault Survivor In High-Profile Missouri Case, Is Dead at 23
Daisy Coleman, who survived a high-profile sexual assault at 14-years-old then became a target of sexist online bullying, has died by suicide. She was 23.
Coleman, the subject of a popular Netflix documentary, “Audrie & Daisy,” went on to become a fierce, high-profile advocate for young sexual assault survivors. Coleman’s mother, Melissa Moeller Coleman, confirmed her daughter’s death Tuesday on Facebook.
“She was so brave but she was tired and scared,” her mother wrote.
In a story first documented by KCUR in 2013, two Maryville High School 17-year-olds, Matthew Barnett and Jordan Zech, were initially charged with raping Coleman and videotaping the assault. But after an uproar in the town of 12,000, Nodaway County authorities dropped the charges, denying allegations that the move was meant to protect Barnett’s prominent family.
After Coleman's story became public, the hacktivist group Anonymous made it a national cause under the hashtag #JusticeForDaisy. A special prosecutor, Jackson County’s Jean Peters Baker, was appointed to the case. Ultimately, Barnett pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of child endangerment.
“She never recovered from what those boys did to her and it’s just not fair,” her mother wrote on Facebook. “My baby girl, my Belle couldn’t take anymore.”
Victoria Pickering, director of advocacy for the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault in Kansas City, said every survivor’s healing process is different. She also said that one in three sexual assault survivors consider suicide.
“What Daisy experienced was not only the trauma of sexual assault, but also the trauma that survivors experience in terms of backlash after reporting,” Pickering said. “As a community, it’s important to recognize that our response to survivors, our dedication to believing and supporting them, is a part of the healing journey for them.”
A high-spirited seeker, Coleman was an artist, an athlete, and a young woman who had already lost her father, in 2010, and a younger brother, in 2019, both in car crashes.
The documentary featuring Coleman’s case also told the story of Audrie Pott, a California teen who died of suicide after a videotape of her assault at a party made the rounds on social media. Coleman was equally bullied online, with many locals siding with the boys. She also became a target of blame in the press by former Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White.
After the documentary aired, Coleman founded a non-profit, SafeBAE, along with four others, including her older brother, Charley. The organization's mission is to end sexual assault among middle and high school students.
SafeBAE issued a statement Wednesday, saying the group was shocked. Coleman had fought for years to heal from “the many traumas in her life,” the statement said.
“She had many coping demons and had been facing and overcoming them all, but as many of you know, healing is not a straight path or any easy one,” the statement said. “She fought longer and harder than we will ever know.”
The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, or MOCSA, has a 24-hour crisis line at 816-531-0233 or 913-642-0233.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255.
Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3