What is sexual violence?
Tragedy has again struck the Coleman family, formerly of Maryville, Mo., who made international headlines in 2013 in the wake of the investigations into the sexual assault of then-14-year-old Daisy Coleman.
Tristan Coleman — the youngest of Daisy’s three brothers — was killed Monday night in a one-vehicle crash on Interstate 70 in western Kansas. The 19-year-old was driving with their mother, Melinda Coleman, who was a passenger and was listed in stable condition Tuesday at Logan County Hospital in Oakley, Kan.
“I’ll always love you the most,” Daisy Coleman wrote of her brother early Tuesday on Facebook.
In a series of heartbreaking posts on Twitter, she also wrote: “My baby brother is gone. What do I even do. How do I breathe. How do I survive this. Why did god take my best friend.”
In an Instagram post with photos of Tristan, Daisy Coleman wrote: “I would sell my soul to be on the couch with you again watching cops or listening to peepers. You fought so hard for so long. I don’t understand why the universe decided today was the day to let you go. But I’ll never stop loving you. You’ll never stop being my best friend. My baby brother you’ll always be.”
Now living in Colorado Springs, Colo., Daisy Coleman was at the center of the Maryville firestorm over her alleged rape by a high school football player in January 2012. After sneaking out to a house party from which she left crying, the girl was dropped off in the below-freezing cold outside her home.
A felony assault charge against Daisy Coleman’s alleged attacker, who was the grandson of a former state representative, was dropped. Afterward, Daisy was bullied daily on social media and the Coleman family eventually moved from Maryville.
Authorities reopened the case when a 2013 report in The Star caused the small-town scandal to go viral.
Ultimately, a special prosecutor, Jackson County’s Jean Peters Baker, reviewed the matter and a 19-year-old Nodaway man, Matthew Barnett, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment. Barnett was the alleged attacker and, at the time of the plea, apologized to Daisy.
Melinda Coleman, 56, had moved with Daisy, son Logan Coleman and Tristan to Albany, Mo., west of Bethany. Daisy, with older brother Charlie, went on to advocate nationwide for sexual assault survivors.
Praised by many and vilified by others, the Colemans at least twice had suspicious fires damage their homes in Nodaway and Gentry counties, said Robert Smith, the fire chief in Albany.
It was the 2009 traffic death of Melinda Coleman’s husband, physician Michael Coleman, that seemed to set the family on a fateful course, Smith said: “When Melinda’s husband got killed, it began a terrible forecast for them. He was their rock.”
Monday’s accident occurred about 10:20 p.m. seven miles east of Oakley. Tristan Coleman was driving a Ford pickup eastbound when he lost control and entered the median. The Kansas Highway Patrol said he over-corrected, briefly returning to the interstate lane before swerving back to the median and rolling the vehicle twice. Both were wearing their seat belts.
“Many of you know the Coleman family have suffered unimaginable loss already in their lives,” wrote a family acquaintance, Shael Norris, in launching a GoFundMe appeal Tuesday to raise funds for funeral and travel expenses. In seven hours, donations reached nearly half of the $5,000 goal.
“I would love to be able to get Daisy home to bury her brother and best friend and help Charlie get Melinda home from the Kansas hospital she is in,” the site reads.
Norris is executive director of SafeBAE.org, co-founded by Daisy, Charlie and others to help prevent and raise awareness of sexual violence, especially in middle and high schools. Daisy’s story was featured in a Netflix documentary, “Audrie and Daisy,” which was honored at the Sundance Film Festival.
Norris, who lives in Maine, boarded a flight Tuesday to Colorado Springs to pick up Daisy, who is a tattoo artist and had just moved to the city over the weekend with the help of her mother and brother.
Immediately after the truck crash, a wounded Melinda Coleman tried to pull her son from the wreckage even after it began to burn. The mother eventually lost consciousness and Norris said she did not know whether Coleman was able to free her son.
“That’s Melinda,” Norris said about her efforts at the crash site. “That’s totally Melinda.”