STEUBENVILLE - Hundreds of people showed up for a protest rally on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse Saturday, despite the snow and freezing temperatures, to voice their concerns over a local rape trial.
The peaceful protest, which began about noon and was organized by the hactivist Internet group Anonymous, included local residents who say they are outraged over what they contend is a cover-up in a case involving the alleged rape of a teenage girl by Steubenville High School student-athletes that allegedly occurred Aug. 11-12.
The rally is tied to the upcoming trial of Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville, who have been charged in connection with the alleged crime. Their trial is set to begin Feb. 13 before visiting Judge Tom Lipps.
Members of the group Anonymous protested Saturday on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)
Earlier in the week, Anonymous took over a local sports fan site, www.rollredroll.com, where the group posted a video and links to information about other individuals it asserted were allegedly involved in the incident. The group also posted the names and other personal information taken from social networking sites they assert is proof others were allegedly involved.
The site is private and not affiliated with the Steubenville City School District in any way. Jim Parks, owner and site webmaster, previously expressed outrage the site had been taken over and said he didn't personally know any Steubenville athletes nor was in any way involved in the matter.
The rally dubbed "OpRollRedRoll" by organizers had more than 900 people committed to attend on a Facebook invite page as of Saturday morning, but inclement weather, including nearly 6 inches of snow that fell during the night, kept the gathering at an estimated 300 to 400 people.
There also was a police presence, but the rally stayed peaceful. Many in the gathering were silent, while others wore Guy Fawkes masks or held signs reading "It's not sex if the girl doesn't say yes," "Arrest the rest of them" and "Rape isn't a sport." Others in the gathering shouted indiscriminately, while many filmed the proceedings or fed a live stream of the event on the Internet. A curious crowd also gathered across the street to film and watch the protest, while Jefferson County sheriff's deputies and members of the Steubenville Police Department stood by. Others driving by honked in support of the rally.
Gina DiPietrantonio of Weirton said she was there to show her support for the victim of the alleged crime and her anger others weren't being prosecuted.
"This case is pretty close to me," said DiPietrantonio, adding she was angry with local officials who she said were not doing more. "We need justice for the victims."
DiPietrantonio also said she was upset the alleged crime happened at all. Others said they were themselves victims of a sexual assault, and this was a way for them to bring to light a crime that isn't always reported.
"I joined Anonymous a week ago," said Holly Hughes of Costonia. "I believe in everything they stand for. That poor girl, what she went through."
Hughes said she herself was a victim of sexual assault, adding the system wasn't working for her. She said she wanted to stand up for victims of sexual assault locally.
"We want to show this little girl that we support her and her family and that we love her and we back her," said Hughes.
Kevin Nay of Steubenville wore a mask and a sign he said was a photo of a sexual predator who molested his daughter several years ago. Nay said the offender wasn't registered in Jefferson County as a sex offender, despite being found guilty of a sex crime against a minor.
"This is why I'm here," said Nay, pointing to his sign. "These are the individuals who fall between the cracks. He's been convicted in Jefferson County, but he's not registered in the (sex offender database)."
Others expressed anger at what they said was a lack of local media coverage of the rape, particularly from local television stations. Samantha Cook of Wintersville said she read about the alleged crime on a social media site two weeks before local television stations reported it, and the lack of local coverage was frustrating to her as a mother.
"I found out about this on Twitter.com and Prinniefied.com," said Cook. "I have a daughter. I was born and raised here. I've witnessed a lot of things unfold."
Cook said she didn't think the protest was about the school but about some possibly being guilty of a crime they haven't been charged with. She also said she suspected there was a cover-up, and that some were being protected against prosecution.
"A girl was raped, and some of those (involved) haven't even been charged," she said. Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said those at the gathering had every right to express their opinions, as long as it was done peacefully.
"They've got something to say, and they have the right to express their opinion," said Abdalla. "They have that right, and (the protesters) have been peaceful."
The action by Anonymous has attracted media attention from the New York Times and other news sources throughout the country. There was conjecture another protest rally in Steubenville was being planned for next Saturday as well, although that hasn't been confirmed.