STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- Shortly after Police Chief William McCafferty arrived at the office one day this week, he found an email from someone claiming to be a hacker from Ontario with a tip. Moments later, a warning message popped up, and the chief's computer was disabled. Within hours, the FBI had the email, and McCafferty's computer technician was trying to transfer files off the hard drive.

It was another reminder for McCafferty of the attention being paid to his department's investigation of the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl at a party last summer by two local football players, both of whom have been charged and are going on trial next month. The chief had already been warned to stop using his home computer for fear of hacking.

The case has gained international attention through the work of bloggers and hacker-activists who allege there was a cover-up to protect other football players they argue should have been charged. The suspicions hinge on the presence of other students nearby when the alleged attack happened, including at least two students who captured it on their cellphones but weren't arrested.

That and other online attention have threatened in recent weeks to overshadow the criminal investigation in this economically depressed city of 18,000 in eastern Ohio – a town that once thrived on steel mill jobs that have all but disappeared, and now takes huge pride in its accomplished high school football team. Defense lawyers are seeking to move the trial because of the attention.

The FBI is investigating a Facebook death threat against the family of the local sheriff, who took his office's website down as a precaution. Last week, a threat made on a student's Facebook page caused a 90-minute lockdown at the high school and led the district to add unarmed guards to its four buildings.

Hackers also apparently attacked the high school sports program's fan website, RollRedRoll. Statements posted there "were not even intended to reveal truth, but rather simply to get media attention and terrorize the Steubenville community," the website said after the attacks.

Government and community agencies in and around Steubenville have added online security, restricted access to websites and in a few cases taken websites down altogether.

"If somebody directs a ton of resources at you, we can't defend against that," said Jim Boni, deputy county auditor for information technology.

The county decided to restrict its website to business hours only after seeing indications it could be targeted, Boni said, with the biggest inconvenience being to anyone wanting to check real estate information after hours.

Local information technology officials are getting help from the state attorney general's office, the highway patrol and Ohio's homeland security division.

The community's Internet woes are the latest twist in a case alleged to have unfolded at an alcohol-fueled end-of-summer party on Aug. 11 at a student's house that was attended by more than three dozen people, many of them underage students.

A 16-year-old girl from West Virginia at the party was raped twice, according to testimony at an October juvenile court hearing – first in a car on the way from the party to another student's house, and then again in the basement of the house, where she lay naked on the floor, very drunk and apparently incapacitated, not saying anything during the alleged assault.

After the girl's mother filed a complaint with Steubenville police Aug. 14, McCafferty quickly assigned his lone juvenile detective full-time to the case, knowing the alleged involvement of football players would raise its profile. Fifteen phones and two iPods were seized and examined.

Big Red football is a big deal in the city. The team's football stadium, dubbed "Death Valley," sits on a hill above Steubenville, and the team is a nine-time state champion, including back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.

Rape charges were filed 10 days later against two players, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond, who were detained and held in a juvenile detention center.

They were released on house arrest Nov. 1 after a judge determined their case would stay in juvenile court. They're attending an alternative school inside the local justice center. Their attorneys say the case should be moved out of Steubenville because of the publicity and closed to the public to protect witnesses.

"We need to take a step back and assess the situation," said Richmond's attorney, Walter Madison. "It's gotten way out of control."

The Associated Press normally does not identify juveniles who are suspects in crimes or charged in juvenile court, but Mays and Richmond have been widely named in media coverage, and their names have been used in open court.

Authorities say they had enough evidence to charge Mays and Richmond based on the testimony of three other students who saw the alleged attacks. Two of those students would have been charged with recording the attacks with their cameras, but the images could not be found, authorities say.

The girl did not testify at the October hearing, at which the judge found enough evidence to charge the boys with rape.

Last fall, a high school student whose name has come up in testimony sued a blogger and anonymous posters to a true crime blog for comments suggesting he was implicated in the attack. The lawsuit was settled when the family withdrew the complaint and the blogger clarified the boy was not at the scene of the assault.

The case went viral again right after New Year's, when a 12-minute YouTube video emerged in which another student made derogatory comments about the alleged victim, while others chimed in off camera. The student in the video, made Aug. 12, was not present at the assault, and the video was filmed at a different house. The boy's attorney said the student regretted the comments.

The same week, the city set up a website, Steubenvillefacts, in hopes of dispelling rumors about the case and claims that any influence the football program or its backers might have on authorities.

Sheriff Fred Abdalla, whose office executed search warrants to seize cellphones, has been the subject of threats, including calls to his house after his home number was posted online. He says he backs the efforts of groups like Anonymous to unearth information, but says it's clear others will never be satisfied there was no cover-up.

"God from heaven can come down and say, `No it's not,' and they'd say, `Yes it is,'" Abdalla said.

Many residents are sick of the attention and say the justice system should be allowed to work.

"Are you trying the rape case or are you trying the accountability and credibility of city officials?" Terrance Elder Sr., 64, a retired contract cleaner, said as he took a break between running errands downtown last week.

The city took its website down as a precaution but is working on ways to beef up online security and bring it back up, said city manager Cathy Davison.

Davison said temporarily disabled websites are a minor issue compared with the need to address the power of social media to spread rumors.

Beyond that, though, is a more fundamental issue, she said. How could such an attack happen in the first place?

"Why did no one stand up for this girl? Why?" Davison said. "That is a bigger conversation."

___

Earlier on HuffPost:



Loading Slideshow...
  • "Young L.A. Girl Slain; Body Slashed in Two" -L.A.'s Daily News

    On January 15, 1947, the remains of Elizabeth Short, were found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. What made this discovery the stuff of tabloid sensation, however, was the Glasgow smile left on the aspiring actress' face--made with 3-inch slashes on each side. This, coupled with Short's dark hair, fair complexion and reputation for sporting a dahlia in her hair, dubbed her "The Black Dahlia" in headlines. What followed was a media circus filled with rumors and speculation about the promiscuous 22-year-old's checkered past. What haunts theorists to this day, apart from the victim's uniquely nightmarish visage, is that the case remains unsolved after some 200 suspects were interviewed and ultimately released--making it one of Hollywood's most lurid legends.

  • "I Am Not Guilty - Thus Lizzie Borden Pleads Before Judge Hammond at New Bedford." -Boston Journal

    <em>"Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. And when she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one."</em> So goes the lurid nursery rhyme to one of the most mystifying crimes of the century. The nature of the deaths of Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby, are trumped only by the identity of the alleged perpetrator: their daughter, Lizzie. Inexplicably found "not guilty" in contrast to the era's zeitgeist of swift justice, Lizzie's legacy--guilty or not--has become immortalized as one of the most perplexing cases of parricide in history.

  • "Texas Mother Charged with Killing Her 5 Children" -CNN

    In a case of mother-gone-mad that startled a nation, Andrea Yates, to her few friends and neighbors, was known as a mere recluse suffering from postpartum depression leading up to the birth of her fifth child. That all changed on June 20, 2001, when she snapped, drowning five of her children in their home's bathtub. She was convicted in 2002 of capital murder, carrying a sentence of life in prison with possible parole. As of July 2006, however, a Texas jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity.

  • "Buttafuoco Admits to Sex with Amy Fisher" -New York Times

    Known as the "Long Island Lolita," Fisher became involved with Joey Buttafuoco in May of 1991. Shortly after the two began a sexual relationship (she, 16, while he, 35, was married with two children), his presence and influence in her life became all she cared for. In what he's since denied to this day, Buttafuoco would go on to help an obsessive Fisher plan the murder of his wife, culminating in Fisher putting a bullet in Mary Jo Buttafuoco's head, but failing to kill her. In the highly publicized trial that ensued, Fisher accepted a plea deal for 15 years in prison in exchange for a testimony against Joey, who faced and served out charges of statutory rape.

  • "Murder of a Little Beauty" -People Magazine

    With a face that graced the covers of nearly every news and gossip rag during the winter of '96, it's hard to suggest the death of child beauty pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey had little effect outside the city of Boulder, Colorado. Found dead from a blow to the head and strangulation in the family's basement, coupled with a ransom note left on the staircase asking for $118,000 (conveniently or coincidentally, nearly the same amount Mr. Ramsey received as a bonus that year), as well as no obvious signs of forced entry into the house, the evidence was overwhelmingly stacked against parents John and Patsy, who managed to maintain their innocence throughout the investigation. The case reopened in 2010, but critics cite poor handling of the crime scene as obstructing what remains a mystery regarding the events of that Christmas day.

  • "F.B.I. Joins Probe in Slaughter of 8 Nurses" -Nashua Telegraph

    Tattooed with "Born to Raise Hell" on his arm, Richard Speck made good on his mantra through a history of violence, theft, alcoholism, and spousal abuse, but made his infamy known to all when, on July 13, 1966, he walked into a dormitory armed with a knife. After leaving 8 student nurses dead in his wake, only one, Cora Amurao, was spared--hiding under a bed until 6 a.m. Speck was found guilty of murder and died of a heart attack in prison. As one of the most press-worthy crimes of the decade, the grim events were used most recently as the backdrop for an episode of <em>Mad Men</em>.

  • "Sharon Tate, Four Others Murdered" -Los Angeles Times

    Perhaps the most terrifying figure in American crime to have never actually killed anyone himself, Charles Manson founded a "family" of wayward individuals who hailed him as a prophet. So strong was his manipulation, he ordered, on the night of Aug. 8, 1969, four of his followers to kill everyone at the residence of 10050 Cielo Drive--including Roman Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, and her unborn child. Tate was stabbed 16 times, and her blood was used to write "pig" on the house's front door. The next night, Manson accompanied six of his family to the residence of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, only to help bind them before ordering their deaths. In 1971, Manson and three of his fellow defendants were found guilty of murder in the first-degree and several other crimes. At the time, it was the longest murder trial in American history, spanning nine and a half months, as well as the most expensive, estimating $1 million. Manson was denied parole for the 12th time in April 2012.

  • "Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped from Home of Parents on Farm Near Princeton; Taken from His Crib; Wide Search on" -The New York Times

    Used as the basis for an Agatha Christie novel (<em>Murder on the Orient Express</em>) and dubbed "the biggest story since the Resurrection" by famed journalist H.L. Mencken, the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son continues to fascinate theorists today. Charles Jr. was discovered missing from his second-floor bedroom on March 1, 1932, along with a note demanding a then-unimaginable $50,000, igniting a media frenzy like no other. The tabloid pandemonium prompted many tips and leads, but none as concrete as a package containing the boy's pajamas and another message demanding the ransom. After some misdirection from the presumed kidnapper, Lindbergh's child was soon after discovered in the woods along a road near the family residence. Notwithstanding the evidence stockpiled against the easily vilified illegal German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann (who was sentenced), speculation prevails as to the true identity of the caper responsible in this tragic tale of one of America's greatest heroes.

  • "Not Guilty as Sin" -NY Post

    Still fresh in the minds of many and not to easily be forgotten, the trial of Casey Anthony turned Orlando, Florida into anything but the "happiest place on earth." Following a series of lies, misdirection and manipulation by then-22 year old Casey, Caylee's skeletal remains were found five months into the investigation, setting the stage for what could only be described as the most incessantly publicized and shocking trial in recent memory. The media had a field day that went on for months: Highlighting the young, pretty, party girl image used against her in court as the prosecution tore apart an aimless defense--or so it seemed. After resorting to throwing her family under the bus, incriminating people entirely made-up ("Zanny the Nanny"), and fabricating elaborate stories for the police, Casey was found not guilty of murder due to evidence deemed mostly circumstantial and not meeting the burden of "beyond reasonable doubt," inciting much debate regarding whether true justice was served.

  • "An American Tragedy" -TIME

    Known and heralded as the "trial of the century," former football star and actor O.J. Simpson found himself in the middle of the nation's biggest, most-televised trial following the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, but not before fleeing an all-points bulletin in his Ford Bronco with 20 units in tow, interrupting game 5 of the NBA Finals. By enlisting a dream team including Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and Robert Kardashian, the defense claimed Simpson was merely a victim of police fraud with regard to contaminated DNA evidence, while famously quipping "If it [the glove] doesn't fit, you must acquit." On October 3, 1995, an estimated 100 million people from around the world tuned in to watch the jury hand down a verdict of not guilty, consequently resulting in an estimated loss of $480 million in productivity and inciting an ongoing discussion of race in the judicial system that continues to this day.