"My baby girl is gone," Melinda Coleman wrote on Facebook on Tuesday

By Harriet Sokmensuer
August 05, 2020 12:42 PM
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Daisy Coleman, a sex crime victim-turned advocate who garnered small-town backlash when she spoke out about her alleged attack, has died by suicide.

Coleman's mother, Melinda, shared the news on Facebook on Tuesday.

"My daughter Catherine Daisy Coleman committed suicide tonight," Melinda Coleman wrote. "If you saw crazy messages and posts it was because I called the police to check on her. She was my best friend and amazing daughter. I think she had to make  it seem like I could live without her. I can’t. I wish I could have taken the pain from her! She never recovered from what those boys did to her and it’s just not fair. My baby girl is gone."

Coleman was 14 when she alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Matthew Barnett, a teenager in her small Missouri hometown. Afterward, she was left intoxicated, wearing only a T-shirt, for hours outside her home in sub-freezing temperatures.

Coleman's accusation led to a felony sexual assault charge against Barnett, but it was later dropped. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. (He claimed the sex was consensual.)

Credit: Courtesy SafeBae.org

The case triggered national scrutiny against Coleman’s family as well as an intense backlash in their small town. After becoming a  target for bullying -- both online and in person -- Coleman attempted suicide multiple times before becoming an advocate for other survivors.

“I definitely feel like people have certain views and perceptions about me and about cases like this because they’re uneducated,” then-19-year-old Coleman told PEOPLE in 2017. “That’s exactly why I’m going out and trying to educate people on what’s going on in our society.”

In 2017, Coleman worked on the national campaign SafeBAE — Safe Before Anyone Else — to help prevent others from enduring sexual violence. She also appeared in Netflix’s documentary Audrie & Daisy in 2016.

Her mother shared a variety of photos of her daughter on Facebook on Wednesday morning.

In the hours since Coleman's death, those close to her have shared an outpouring of support for her grieving mother.

"Your gonna be missed so much but I know you’re free now... no more pain baby," one friend wrote. "Meet me in the pit up there at heavens Warped Tour. I love you. I’ll watch over mom and your other brothers down here."

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In 2014, Barnett pleaded guilty to child endangerment and was sentenced to two years’ probation.

Coleman previously told PEOPLE she had forgiven him.

“I honestly don’t have any vindictive feelings toward him,” Coleman said in 2017. “I feel like all of that negativity that he put onto me was passed down to him at one point, so I felt the need to stop that kind of transaction of negativity and hate.”

“I went through a lot of years of self-loathing and asking myself, Why me? So much ‘woe is me,’" she continued. “I just decided one day that I was done being negative about it. I needed to forgive myself for what happened.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.