Suicide of Megan Meier
|Born||Megan Taylor Meier
November 6, 1992
O'Fallon, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||October 17, 2006
Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Resting place||Saint Charles Memorial Gardens
Saint Charles, Missouri, U.S.
|Parent(s)||Christina "Tina" Meier
Ronald "Ron" Meier
Megan Taylor Meier (November 6, 1992 – October 17, 2006) was an American teenager from Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, who died of suicide by hanging three weeks before her 14th birthday. A year later, Meier's parents prompted an investigation into the matter and her suicide was attributed to cyberbullying through the social networking website Myspace. Lori Drew, the mother of a friend of Meier, was indicted on the matter in 2008, but was acquitted in the 2009 case United States v. Drew.
Megan Taylor Meier was born on November 6, 1992, to Christina "Tina" Meier and Ronald "Ron" Meier in O'Fallon, Missouri. During Megan's childhood she lived in the nearby Dardenne Prairie. She had a younger sister.
From the third grade, after she had told her mother she had wanted to kill herself, Megan had been under the care of a psychiatrist. She had been prescribed citalopram (an antidepressant that has a possible side effect of increasing suicide risk in young people), methylphenidate, and the atypical antipsychotic ziprasidone. She had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and depression, and had self-esteem issues regarding her weight. She was described by her parents as a "bubbly, goofy" girl who enjoyed spending time with her friends and family.
Meier attended Fort Zumwalt public schools, including Pheasant Point Elementary School and Fort Zumwalt West Middle School in nearby O'Fallon, Missouri. For eighth grade, her parents enrolled her at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Dardenne Prairie. They thought that its policy requiring uniforms and prohibiting makeup and jewelry might help Megan fit in.
Soon after opening an account on Myspace, Meier received a message supposedly from a 16-year-old boy, Josh Evans. Meier and "Josh" became online friends, but never met in person or spoke. Meier thought "Josh" was attractive. As Meier began to exchange messages with this person, her family said she seemed to have had her "spirits lifted". This person claimed to have moved to the nearby city of O'Fallon, was homeschooled and did not yet have a phone number.
A 16-year-old male named "Josh Evans" was registered on the account used for bullying messages to Meier. But Lori Drew, the mother of Sarah Drew, a former friend of Meier, later admitted creating the Myspace account. At the time of the suicide, the Drew and Meier families were neighbors, living four doors apart.
Lori Drew was aided by Sarah and by Ashley Grills, an 18-year-old employee of Lori. Lori and several others ran the hoaxed account. Witnesses testified that the women intended to use Meier's messages sent to "Josh" to get information about her and later humiliate her, in retribution for her allegedly spreading gossip about Drew's daughter.
On October 15, 2006, the tone of the messages changed. "Josh" stated in a message sent to Megan: "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". More messages of this type were sent, some of Megan's messages were shared with others, and bulletins were posted about her. According to Ron Meier and a neighbor who had discussed the hoax with Drew, the last message sent by "Josh" read: "Everybody in O'Fallon knows who you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you".
Meier responded saying, "You're the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over". The last few exchanges were made via AOL Instant Messenger instead of Myspace. Meier was found 20 minutes later in her bedroom closet; she had hung herself with a belt. Despite attempts to revive her, Megan Taylor Meier was pronounced dead the next day on October 17.[not in citation given][not in citation given]
Several weeks after her death, Megan Meier's parents were told 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 told the Meiers that Drew had the hoax account said "Lori laughed about it", and said she had intended to "mess with Megan".
While Drew's name was excluded from most early news stories, CNN disclosed her name through the inclusion of the police report in its broadcast of the story; it was featured on many blogs.
It was more than a year between Meier's suicide and the first media report of the Internet hoax. The FBI was investigating the matter and had asked the Meier family to refrain from speaking publicly about it to keep the Drews from learning about their investigation. Shortly after the first anniversary of Meier's death, her aunt, Vicki Dunn, saw an article written by Steve Pokin of the Suburban Journals about Internet harassment. She contacted 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 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 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 her participation in the Meier case. He 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 was solely relying on the testimony of the Drews. Banas said that the original FBI investigation into the matter, during which Grills was interviewed, established her role in the event. The Meiers have said they do not hold Grills responsible for Megan's death. Banas said Sarah Drew, by then 15, was attending a different school and not living in Dardenne Prairie. He said Lori Drew was fearful of telling him where her daughter lives. According to Lori Drew's attorney, she had to close her advertising business in the wake of publicity about her role in the Internet account and messages. Neighbors shunned the Drews following the revelations.
Internet webloggers posted photographs, telephone numbers, e-mail details, and addresses of the Drews and the employee on various websites. Businesses that advertised in Drew's coupon book business were also shunned. Sarah Wells, a weblogger who revealed the given and family names of Lori Drew, said, "I don't regret naming Drew." Stephen Hutcheon, a writer for the Australian newspaper The Age, compared the Dardenne Prairie street where the Drews lived to Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives. He noted that neighbors were feuding and there was an increased police presence. After reviewing the case, county prosecutors decided not to file any criminal charges in relation to the hoax.
When Megan Meier's story was first reported in the St. Charles Journal, readers were concerned about the unnamed adults implicated in the hoax. Later, the focus was on the decision by the St. Louis Suburban Journals decision not to print the names of the Drews. In an interview, the reporter said that names had been withheld to protect the minor child in the family. Webloggers learned and reported the names of Lori and Gary Drew, after they found the latter in minutes. Media eventually revealed Lori Drew's name and published her photograph.
Banas said he was aware of the national outrage against the Drews, which originated on the Internet in response to the Steve Pokin article in the O'Fallon Journal. The Drews have had their home and work addresses, phone and cell phone 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. A vigil was held for Megan Meier on November 24, 2007. The crowd gathered in a nearby parking lot and walked past the homes of the Meiers and the Drews. A small piece of ground adjacent to the Drews' house was the scene of remembrances by friends of the Meiers.
The case has caused several jurisdictions to enact or to consider legislation prohibiting harassment over the Internet. The Board of Aldermen for the City of Dardenne Prairie passed an ordinance on November 22, 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 18.
The new legislation went into effect on August 28, 2008, and was intended to cover loopholes in the current law. According to the St. Louis Daily Record, the "new language expands the definition of the crime of 'harassment' to include knowingly intimidating or causing emotional distress anonymously, either by phone or electronically, or causing distress to a child." It also "increases the penalty for harassment from a misdemeanor to a felony, carrying up to four years in prison, if it’s committed by an adult against someone 17 or younger, or if the criminal has previously been convicted of harassment." This is one of the first comprehensive cyberbullying and cyberstalking state laws that protects children and adults from harassment on social networking sites. The bill is a reaction to Lori Drew's case dismissal and Governor Matt Blunt, the politician who signed the law into effect states, "[Missouri] needs tough laws to protect its children." A bill was introduced in the 111th Congress on April 2, 2009 as H.R. 1966. Both houses of the Missouri State Legislature voted unanimously on May 15, 2008 to criminalize usage of the internet to harass someone, the existing statute was expanded to prohibit abusive "communication by any means..." and is known as "Megan's Law." (not to be confused with New Jersey's and subsequent federal Megan's Law). On May 22, 2008, Congresswoman Linda T. Sanchez introduced H.R. 6123 as the "Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act" to "amend title 18, United States Code, with respect to cyberbullying."
Tina Meier started the Megan Meier Foundation, headquartered in Chesterfield, Missouri. The organization states that it exists to promote "awareness, education and promote positive change to children, parents and educators in response to the ongoing bullying and cyberbullying in our children’s daily environment."
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