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'A Town Destroyed For What Two People Did': Dispatch From Steubenville

09/16/2013 12:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013

A few hours before Steubenville High School's first football game of the 2013 season, a six-year-old held my hand and showed me the two photos of cute teenage boys on her "big girl" bedroom walls: Justin Bieber and Cody Saltsman. She wore a tiny jersey with Cody's number--he's a senior wide receiver/defensive back for "Big Red," as the team is nicknamed--and a black and red hair bow. "When will we see cousin Cody?" she asked me every few minutes. Cody isn't really her cousin. But in Steubenville, Ohio, population 18,000, everyone knows everyone; it wouldn't be a stretch if he were.

If Saltsman's name sounds familiar, you probably followed the Steubenville rape case along with much of the country. Last August, former Big Red sophomore football players Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were charged with kidnapping and raping a 16-year-old girl--Saltsman's ex-girlfriend--from a town across the river in West Virginia. The girl, who attended a private religious school but was friendly with the Big Red guys and had been frequently texting and tweeting with Mays, said she was so drunk she had no idea what happened that night until she saw kids gossiping about it on social media. Six days later, her parents filed charges, armed with texts, photos, and videos that appeared to offer a horrifying timeline of events. Nicole Lamantia, a 29-year-old fourth-generation Steubenville resident married to a Big Red football coach--their daughter is the Cody fangirl--said the town was appalled.

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