Nothing remains of the house that once stood on the corner of South Scout Ridge Drive in Maryville, Missouri. Its footprint has been erased and work has begun on a new building in its place.

Investigators never established the cause of the enormous fire that ripped through the home in the spring of 2013. But to this day, Melinda Coleman suspects it was started deliberately, a parting shot from a community that wanted to see her family crumble.

Best friends and cheerleaders Paige Parkhurst, then 13, (rightj) and Daisy , 14, (left) were raped in the basement of one of the high school's most popular footballers in 2012. Photo / Netflix
Best friends and cheerleaders Paige Parkhurst, then 13, (rightj) and Daisy , 14, (left) were raped in the basement of one of the high school's most popular footballers in 2012. Photo / Netflix

The family had originally moved to Maryville from Albany, Missouri, about 65km away, in 2009 after Melinda's husband and father to her four children, Dr Michael Coleman, was killed in a car crash. They had hoped to make new and better memories than those the town of Albany now held.

Instead, they found themselves at the center of a sexual assault case that shocked the nation, Daily Mail reports.

Advertisement

Now, the families devastated by the case that became shorthand for rape culture and victim blaming have spoken exclusively to DailyMail.com.

It has been five years since this small town was rocked by the traumatising case. Daisy Coleman, then 14, and her best friend Paige Parkhurst, 13, were raped in the basement of one of the high school's most popular footballers, the scion of a well-connected political family.

Much of what happened on the night of January 8, 2012 is undisputed.

At about 1am Daisy and Paige were having a sleepover at Daisy's house when they decided to sneak out - at the invitation of Matthew Barnett, now 22. His friends Jordan Zech, 24, Nick Groumoutis, 23 and Cole Forney, 22, were also present.

Daisy's brother, Charlie, 23, regarded Groumoutis as his best friend but was wary of Barnett. He told her not to text him, but she ignored him.

The boys drove the girls 5km to Barnett's home, stopping first at A&G, the restaurant owned by Groumoutis' parents, to pick up a bottle of vodka. They climbed in the basement window of Barnett's home to avoid detection by his parents.

Almost immediately the girls were separated. Barnett admitted having sex with Daisy - 14 is the age of consent in the state of Missouri - but said it was consensual and that Daisy did not drink heavily until afterwards.

Daisy recalled being offered a drink from what the boys called the "bitch cup" - a tall shot glass - then being offered a second and not remembering anything after that. Zech admitted videoing Barnett with Daisy.

He used Groumoutis' cell phone but claimed he thought they were just "dry humping". The video was deleted - after reportedly being passed around the school - but never retrieved by law enforcement.

Meanwhile, Paige has patchy memories of being taken into another bedroom by her rapist, who was an unnamed juvenile at the time.

He put on a condom and took off her clothes, then had sex with her, though she said no and told him to stop. The boy was a friend of hers.

Paige's rapist confessed and was convicted in juvenile court, but it was only after a second investigation that Daisy's alleged rapist was convicted in adult court on the lesser charge of child endangerment.

The case exploded on social media and when felony charges were dismissed amid allegations of corruption and political favour, the victims were mercilessly trolled and their families intimidated.

Five years on, the girls have revealed previously unknown details of the first investigation by then Nodaway Sheriff Darren White. They shared the harrowing ongoing impact that night in January 2012 has had on Daisy and Paige, and how it threatened their friendship as they each coped in very different ways.

They have also revealed the hope they now share for their future - one as a new mother, the other as a student, activist and victim advocate determined to convert her pain into something positive.

Today Daisy Coleman, 19, is a sophomore at Missouri Valley College. Exceptionally pretty, articulate and self-possessed, she has come a long way from the broken 14-year-old dumped in her own front yard in the early hours of the morning, almost frozen to death in temperatures of -6C, after the boys she thought were friends had finished with her.

She has just returned from Texas, where she spoke to a crowd of students as co-founder of Safebae.org. She launched the organisation with two other girls who survived sexual assaults, and her older brother Charlie.

"After my case went viral I took a break for a while, but during that time period I noticed a lot of other victims and survivors had come forward. Seeing me doing it so publicly, I felt like that gave them a space to tell their own story and I was really inspired by that," she said.

"So after meeting with three other women from Pave (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment), who were about the same age as I and had their own stories of assault, we decided to found our own organisation called Safebae and we tour high schools and colleges in the US and, if we ever get the funds, we'll go out of the US."

Her mission was only strengthened by her involvement in the documentary Audrie and Daisy. The film, on Netflix, is up for a prestigious Annie award for animation next month as the scenes of Daisy's attack are depicted using animated illustrations drawn by art student Daisy herself.

She found it hard to watch - hard to listen to Sheriff White's clear belief that Daisy and Paige were somehow as culpable as the boys - or his slippery note to camera that "teenage girls lie".

But what Daisy found most difficult, she admitted, was that her own story is paired with that of Audrie Pott. The 15-year-old from Saratoga committed suicide when photos and video taken of her being sexually assaulted by male friends while passed out circulated her high school.

Daisy is all too aware that she and Paige could have had similar ends to their story. Both have tried to commit suicide - Paige twice, Daisy four times - and both have spent time as in-patients of juvenile psychiatric units.

Yet remarkably, Paige, now 18, and Daisy, say they have forgiven their attackers and harbour no resentment.

Speaking from her home in Albany, Missouri, Paige's mother Robin Parkhurst Bourland, 42, said: "Two bubbly cheerleaders snuck out that night and really they never came back. The Paige and Daisy who left that night and the Paige and Daisy who were found the next morning were not the same girls.

"The boy who raped Paige was supposed to be a friend of hers. She once said to me, 'Mum, I'm not angry anymore but sometimes I'd like to ask him, "Why?"'

Today, both mothers believe the entire night was planned and premeditated by the boys. Chillingly, they are convinced that it was not the first time the boys in question had done it.

Melinda Coleman, 55, said: "This wasn't a night of drinking that got out of hand. They had the girls in and out in less than an hour. It was like a covert operation.

"Before the charges against Barnett were dismissed, about 12 or 13 girls came forward to make statements that something similar had happened to them, but one by one they fell away when they saw what was happening to Daisy. They were intimidated and I can't blame them.

"It was always the same boys, or a variation of that group. They called themselves the Wolf Pack."

One of the aspects the girls and their families have found most painful is the fact that the members of the "Wolf Pack" were regarded as close friends.

Melinda said: "These boys would come over and watch football in my living room, I'd make chilli for them. They used to come over to our house all the time. Charlie regarded Nick as his best friend. And yet they did this and left Daisy in the dirt."

It was Daisy's youngest brother Tristan who found his sister in the front yard around 5am. He heard scratching at the door and thought the dog must have got out.

Melinda said: "The first thing I noticed was she had frostbite on her hands and feet. It was 21 degrees [-6C] that night and she was in a T-shirt and sweatpants. Her hair was wet, we've never found out the whole story but we think she must have thrown up and they washed it and it was frozen to the ground.

"They had just thrown all her belongings, her purse and things, her underwear and bra, in the yard next door. Her brothers found them.

"Tristan said she was blue and sparkly. He thought she was frozen. He thought she was dead."

Confused and distressed, Melinda brought her daughter in and undressed her to give her a warm bath. It was then that she saw the redness and bruising and knew with a sense of dread that something was badly wrong.

Both girls were taken to the hospital where rape kit exams were administered and Daisy's blood alcohol tested. Eight hours after she had stopped drinking, she still registered as 0.13 - well past the legal limit to drive and typically meaning gross motor impairment. According to Melinda: "The doctor told me she had three tears, two of about 10cm in length and one about 7cm. I started to cry.

"I said to him, 'I know what that means but will you just say it?' And he said,
'Your daughter's been raped'. And that's when Daisy and I both started to cry."

Parkhurst Bourland recalls hearing that her daughter had been raped as the most difficult thing she has ever had to deal with as a mother. But both families held onto the hope that there would be justice. They trusted the system.

"I really thought it would be a slam dunk," Melinda said.

Paige's rapist confessed and was found guilty in juvenile court. But, in the months that followed, initial felony charges of rape and child endangerment brought against Barnett were dismissed amid allegations of small-town corruption and political favour - Barnett's grandfather, Rex, was a former highway patrol officer and influential State Representative.

And when the charges were dismissed, Daisy was branded a liar, victimised twice over and mercilessly trolled on social media. Melinda Coleman lost her job as a veterinarian and her children were threatened. In August 2012 the family fled to Albany. But the scandal would not die.

She said: "Girls at the dance studio where Daisy attended had T-shirts made up that said 'Matt 1: Daisy 0.' When I complained the owner said there was nothing she could do about it because it wasn't an official school T-shirt."

Social media exploded with hateful hashtags, branding Daisy a "skank" a "whore" and a
"liar".

Then in January 2014, after a second investigation by special prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, Barnett plead guilty to a lesser charge of child endangerment and was sentenced to two years' probation.

Melinda Coleman views Barnett's punishment as "little more than a speeding ticket". Daisy said it was "better than nothing". Neither felt satisfied or validated by the judicial crumb.

Today it is clear that both girls disappeared into their own personal nightmare. Daisy had waved her right to anonymity, so she bore the brunt of the online trolling. But, according to Paige's mother, her daughter felt the wounds every bit as personally.

She explained: "When they were disbelieving Daisy's story they were disbelieving Paige because Daisy's story essentially was Paige's since Daisy couldn't remember any of it."

According to Melinda: "They were so close but there was a time they couldn't really look at each other because it brought it all back."

Both were diagnosed with PTSD and Paige with conversion disorder, which means she suffers from panic attacks to the point where she passes out. Meanwhile Daisy self-harmed, carving the boys' names into her skin and branding herself.

Neither girl could sleep in her own bed - Paige would drag her mattress into her older brother Colton's bedroom for a year. Daisy slept in her mother's bed for a similar period of time. At times her brothers slept in sleeping bags on the floor around her, fearful that she would kill herself if not watched.

Melinda recalls the last time Daisy tried to kill herself, not long after Barnett's conviction of child endangerment left her dejected and despairing all over again, as a turning point.

She explained: "She was lying in the hospital bed and I just said to her, 'I can't do this without you'. And after that I could really see her trying. There was a shift in her. She didn't have any anger anymore - as a mother I had anger far longer than she did.

"At the beginning she would say to me, 'Mum, why does my story matter? There are other girls who've had worse things than me.' But then I think she started to see that she was helping people by talking and by carrying on. I think the most healing thing for Daisy has been helping others."

Her daughter echoed that sentiment: "I was very young [when it happened] so obviously I did not cope with it well. I was very negative towards myself. I lost all of my confidence. I didn't realise who I was anymore because I lost my position on the cheerleading squad.

"I faced a lot of identity problems and a lot of that journey was just redefining myself and recognising that even though all these people are saying all these things about me doesn't mean that they're true, because I get to define who I am.

"I feel no resentment towards my attacker only because I have come to realise that he was only passing on some form of negativity to me which at some point was passed onto him so once I came to that realisation, that made me forgive him in a sense even though he never presented an apology," she said.

Robin says that the same is true of Paige, who is now living with her boyfriend in Albany and is mother to 6-month-old Rosalynn Ophelia.

Robin admitted: "It wasn't the best thing to hear from my 17-year-old daughter that she was pregnant, but I think she's been so good for her. I can't say what happened doesn't have an impact on her and her relationship, but she has forgiven the boy who raped her and she's very supportive of everything that Daisy is doing, even though she chooses not to be so publicly vocal."

Daisy, too, is currently dating, but it's taken her a long time to be able to trust enough to form an intimate relationship.

"I didn't really have many boyfriends in high school - I had two. I really just stayed away from relationships for a while and tried developing friendships where I can build a more intimate relationship with someone. It was all little baby steps for me with friendships first."

Paige and Daisy's friendship is not close as it once was but, Robin said, her daughter supported everything Daisy is now doing and was always her staunch defender in the darkest days.

Darren White was not available for comment when DailyMail.com attempted to reach him. Approached at the family home Shirley Barnett, 54, Matthew's mother, declined to say whether or not Matthew was there but said that none of the families would comment.

She said: "Any time we have said anything it has only hurt that family [the Colemans] more. They have issues they have to deal with. They have to heal and move on."

It is hard to escape the feeling that by "move on," Barnett and many of Maryville's 12,000 residents mean simply "move away".

But Daisy, for one, shows no desire to disappear or to be silent now that she has found her voice and her message. She said: "I want survivors and victims to know that they're not alone in their endeavours.

"They don't have to go on national television, they need only tell their family and if they don't want to report it they are most definitely supported by an army of people standing beside them regardless."