By CHRISTOPHER MAAG
Published: November 28, 2007
DARDENNE PRAIRIE, Mo., Nov. 21 — Megan Meier died believing that somewhere in this world lived a boy named Josh Evans who hated her. He was 16, owned a pet snake, and she thought he was the cutest boyfriend she ever had.
Josh contacted Megan through her page on MySpace.com, the social networking Web site, said Megan’s mother, Tina Meier. They flirted for weeks, but only online — Josh said his family had no phone. On Oct. 15, 2006, Josh suddenly turned mean. He called Megan names, and later they traded insults for an hour.
The next day, in his final message, said Megan’s father, Ron Meier, Josh wrote, “The world would be a better place without you.”
Sobbing, Megan ran into her bedroom closet. Her mother found her there, hanging from a belt. She was 13.
Six weeks after Megan’s death, her parents learned that Josh Evans never existed. He was an online character created by Lori Drew, then 47, who lived four houses down the street in this rapidly growing community 35 miles northwest of St. Louis.
That an adult would plot such a cruel hoax against a 13-year-old girl has drawn outraged phone calls, e-mail messages and blog posts from around the world. Many people expressed anger because St. Charles County officials did not charge Ms. Drew with a crime.
But a St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Lt. Craig McGuire, said that what Ms. Drew did “might’ve been rude, it might’ve been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.”
In response to the events, the local Board of Aldermen on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure making Internet harassment a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.
“Give me a break; that’s nothing,” Mayor Pam Fogarty said of the penalties. “But it’s the most we could do. People are saying to me, ‘Let’s go burn down their house.’”
St. Charles County’s prosecuting attorney, Jack Banas, said he was reviewing the case to determine whether anyone could be charged with a crime. State Representative Doug Funderburk, whose district includes Dardenne Prairie, said he was looking into the feasibility of introducing legislation to tighten restrictions against online harassment and fraud.
In seventh grade, Megan Meier had tried desperately to join the popular crowd at Fort Zumwalt West Middle School, only to be teased about her weight, her mother said. At the beginning of eighth grade last year, she transferred to Immaculate Conception, a nearby Catholic school. Within three months, Ms. Meier said, her daughter had a new group of friends, lost 20 pounds and joined the volleyball team.
At one time, Lori Drew’s daughter and Megan had been “joined at the hip,” said Megan’s great-aunt Vicki Dunn. But the two drifted apart, and when Megan changed schools she told the other girl that she no longer wanted to be friends, Ms. Meier said.
In a report filed with the Sheriff’s Department, Lori Drew said she created the MySpace profile of “Josh Evans” to win Megan’s trust and learn how Megan felt about her daughter. Reached at home, Lori’s husband, Curt Drew, said only that the family had no comment.
Because Ms. Drew had taken Megan on family vacations, she knew the girl had been prescribed antidepression medication, Ms. Meier said. She also knew that Megan had a MySpace page.
Ms. Drew had told a girl across the street about the hoax, said the girl’s mother, who requested anonymity to protect her daughter, a minor.
“Lori laughed about it,” the mother said, adding that Ms. Drew and Ms. Drew’s daughter “said they were going to mess with Megan.”
After a month of innocent flirtation between Megan and Josh, Ms. Meier said, Megan suddenly received a message from him saying, “I don’t like the way you treat your friends, and I don’t know if I want to be friends with you.”
They argued online. The next day other youngsters who had linked to Josh’s MySpace profile joined the increasingly bitter exchange and began sending profanity-laden messages to Megan, who retreated to her bedroom. No more than 15 minutes had passed, Ms. Meier recalled, when she suddenly felt something was terribly wrong. She rushed to the bedroom and found her daughter’s body hanging in the closet.
As paramedics worked to revive Megan, the neighbor who insisted on anonymity said, Lori Drew called the neighbor’s daughter and told her to “keep her mouth shut” about the MySpace page.
Six weeks later, at a meeting with the Meiers, mediated by grief counselors, the neighbor told them that “Josh” was a hoax. The Drews were not present.
“I just sat there in shock,” Mr. Meier said.
Shortly before Megan’s death, the Meiers had agreed to store a foosball table the Drews had bought as a Christmas surprise for their children. When the Meiers learned about the MySpace hoax, they attacked the table with a sledgehammer and an ax, Ms. Meier said, and threw the pieces onto the Drews’ driveway.
“I felt like such a fool,” Mr. Meier said. “I’m supposed to protect my family, and here I allowed these people to inject themselves into our lives.”
The police learned about the hoax when Ms. Drew filed a complaint about the damage to the foosball table. In the report, she stated that she felt the hoax “contributed to Megan’s suicide, but she did not feel ‘as guilty’ because at the funeral she found out Megan had tried to commit suicide before.”
Megan had mentioned suicide several times, her mother said, but had never attempted it, and no one who knew her, including her doctors, felt she was suicidal.
On the advice of F.B.I. agents who did not want the Drews to learn of their investigation of the hoax, Ms. Meier said, her family said nothing publicly about the case for a year. Today, the Meier and the Drew families continue to live four houses from one another on a winding suburban street.
“There are no words to explain my rage,” Ms. Meier said. “These people were supposed to be our friends.”
Is justice being served here? What recourse does the family have? What lesson is to be learned from this incident?
Extra credit if you also post here.
Extra credit if you also post here.