Megan Taylor Meier

Suicide of Megan Meier

Megan Taylor Meier (November 6 1992October 17 2006) was an American teenager from Dardenne Prairie, Missouri who committed suicide in October 2006. Her suicide was attributed to cyber-bullying through the social networking website MySpace. The account, purportedly belonging to a 16-year-old male named "Josh Evans," was created and monitored by the mother of a friend of Meier, whom a police report identified as Lori Janine Drew.

A federal grand jury indicted Lori Drew on May 15, 2008, on three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress, and one count of criminal conspiracy. A penalty of up to five years in prison corresponds to each of the four counts that the indictment carries. The case has caused several jurisdictions to consider legislation prohibiting harassment over the Internet.

Background

Meier participated in a number of activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, and volleyball. She had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and depression, and considered herself overweight. She was described by her parents as a "bubbly, goofy" girl who enjoyed spending time with her friends and family.

Meier had attended Fort Zumwalt West Middle School, in nearby O'Fallon, Missouri for seventh grade. For eighth grade, her parents moved her to Immaculate Conception School, in Dardenne Prairie, with a uniform and policy against makeup and jewelry that the Meiers thought would help Megan fit in. At the time of the incident, the Drew and Meier households were neighbors, living four doors apart.

Death

Soon after opening an account on MySpace, Meier received a message from someone claiming he was a 16-year-old boy called "Josh Evans" and Megan and "Josh" soon became online friends, but never met in person or spoke. Meier thought "he" was attractive. Meier began to exchange messages with this person, and was described by family as having had her "spirits lifted". This person claimed to have just moved to the nearby city of O'Fallon, was home schooled, and did not yet have a phone number.

On October 15, 2006, the tone of the messages changed, with "Evans" saying "I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends". Other troubling messages were sent; some of Megan's messages were shared with others; and bulletins were posted about her. After telling her mother, Christina "Tina" Meier, about the increasing number of hurtful messages, the two got into an argument over the vulgar language Megan used in response to the messages and the fact that she did not log off when her mother told her to. After the argument, Meier ran upstairs to her room. She was found twenty minutes later, hanging by the neck in a closet. Despite attempts to revive her, she was pronounced dead the following day. According to Ronald "Ron" Meier (Meier's father) and a neighbor who had discussed the hoax with Lori Drew, the last message sent by Evans read: "The world would be a better place without you." Investigators did not find a record of this message.

Investigation

Local

Six weeks after her death, Megan Meier's parents were informed that the mother of one of their daughter's friends — with whom Meier had a falling out — had created the "Josh Evans" account. The parent, Lori Drew, who created the fake account, admitted that she and her daughter had the password to the account, and characterized the hoax to a reporter as a "joke." Initially, Drew denied knowing about the offensive messages that were sent to Meier. She told the police that the account was aimed at "gaining Megan's confidence and finding out what Megan felt about her daughter and other people". The neighborhood mother who had informed the Meiers that Drew had been responsible for the hoax account said "Lori laughed about it," and that Drew said she had intended to "mess with Megan." While Drew's name was excluded from most early news stories, many blogs and CNN, through the inclusion of the police report during its broadcast of the story, disclosed her name.

There was a gap of over a year from the time of the suicide (16 October 2006) until the time that the controversy behind it was finally reported in the media (11 November 2007). This was due to a request by the FBI, who had been investigating the hoax, and had asked the Meier family not to say anything publicly in order to keep the Drews from finding out about their investigation.

Shortly after the first anniversary of Meier's death, Meier's aunt, Vicki Dunn, saw an article written by Steve Pokin of the Suburban Journals about internet harassment, and contacted Mr. Pokin to share Meier's story with him. Once the story broke, it quickly spread to national and international news outlets.

At a press conference on Monday, December 3, 2007, Jack Banas, the prosecuting attorney of St. Charles County, said that Lori Drew's 18-year-old temporary employee, Ashley Grills, wrote most of the messages addressed to Meier and that she wrote the final "Josh Evans" message addressed to Meier. Grills said she wrote the final message to end the MySpace hoax and get Megan Meier to stop communicating with "Josh Evans. Banas stated that he did not interview Grills because, at the time, she was under psychiatric treatment for the involvement in the Meier case, and did not plan to interview her at a later date. The Meiers criticized the prosecutor's statements, saying that Banas did not interview any party other than the Drews and that Banas is solely relying on the testimony of the Drews. Banas stated that the original FBI investigation into the matter, at which time Grills was interviewed, established the employee's role in the event. The Meiers do not hold Grills responsible for Megan's death.

Banas said the Drews' daughter, now 15, is attending a different school and is not currently living in Dardenne Prairie. He said Lori Drew was fearful of telling him where her daughter lives. According to Lori Drew's attorney, she has had to close her advertising business in the wake of the controversy and the Drews will probably be unable to continue to live in the neighborhood. Neighbors shunned the Drews following the incident.

Internet Bloggers posted photographs, telephone numbers, e-mail details, and addresses of the Drews and the employee on various websites. Businesses advertised in Drew's coupon book business were also shunned. Sarah Wells, a blogger who revealed the first and last names of Lori Drew, stated that "I don't regret naming Drew," in an e-mail message. Stephen Hutcheon, a writer for the Australian newspaper The Age, compared the Dardenne Prairie street which has the Drew residence to Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives, citing neighbors feuding and increased police presence.

After reviewing the case, county prosecutors decided not to file any criminal charges in relation to the hoax.

Federal

According to the Los Angeles Times, a federal grand jury began issuing subpoenas in January 2008 to MySpace as federal prosecutors considered charges of federal wire fraud and cyber fraud against Lori Drew. The grand jury in Los Angeles is believed to have jurisdiction because MySpace is headquartered in Beverly Hills, California.

The US Attorney has granted immunity to Ashley Grills in exchange for her testimony against Lori Drew.

On May 15, 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Lori Drew on one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress. Each count of the indictment carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Prosecutors charged Drew with violating MySpace's terms of use because of using a fictitious name, therefore giving her no authority to access MySpace. Because the prosecution is based on a violation of a web site agreement, it gives a business contract the same power as the law. John Palfrey, a Harvard University law professor, stated "An application of a general statute like this might result in chilling a great deal of online speech and other freedom.

Cyberlaw expert Parry Aftab said the case was an important start for protecting children online. Some former prosecutors called the indictments unusual, including former Federal prosecutor Joseph DeMarco, who stated "You don't normally send people to federal prison for annoying, bullying or obnoxious conduct.

Reaction to Meier's death

Megan Meier's story was first reported in the St. Charles Journal, and reader comments focused on unnamed adults implicated in the hoax — who were later revealed to be Lori and Curt Drew. Later, the focus was on the St. Louis Suburban Journals's decision not to print the name of the Drews. The reporter stated in an interview that the names were withheld out of concern for the minor child of the hoaxer.

However, the identity of the chief perpetrator, Lori Drew, was quickly revealed by webloggers, who reported finding the names of the parents within minutes from the information given in the article, followed by the media eventually revealing Lori Drew's name and photograph. Due to the vehement public reaction, police added additional patrols to the neighborhood, and the Drews installed security cameras and recording devices on their roof. Angry neighbors complained that "there's never been any sense of remorse or public apology from the Drews, no 'maybe we made a mistake.'"

Banas said he was aware of the national outrage against the Drews, which originated on the Internet in reponse to the Steve Pokin article in the O'Fallon Journal. The Drews have had their home and work addresses, phone and cell numbers, and aerial photos of their home posted on the Internet. The Drews' property had also been vandalized. Banas said some of these actions against the Drews could constitute Internet stalking. "Because we can’t prosecute somebody it certainly does not justify violating the law," Banas said. "We live in this country by the rule of the law." He described Lori Drew as "upset, cautious and guarded" when he interviewed her. Banas said that Mrs. Drew felt "terrible" about Meier’s death.

The Board of Aldermen for the City of Dardenne Prairie, passed an ordinance on 22 November, 2007, in response to the incident. The ordinance prohibits any harassment that utilizes an electronic medium, including the Internet, text messaging services, pagers, and similar devices. Violations of the ordinance are treated as misdemeanors, with fines of up to $500 and up to 90 days imprisonment. The city of Florissant, Missouri also passed a "Cyber Harassment" law, with other municipalities, counties, and states considering following suit. The state of Missouri is to revise its harassment laws in response to the case, updating them to cover harassment through computers and mobile phone messaging, and creating a new crime to cover adults 21 and over harassing children under the age of eighteen.

A vigil was held for Megan Meier in November 2007. The crowd gathered in a near-by parking lot and walked past the homes of the Meier's and the Drew's. A small piece of ground adjacent to the Drew's house was the scene of remembrances by friends of the Meier's. A video of the vigil can be seen at sccworlds.com (Dardenne Prairie Page).

See also

References

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