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MySpace suicide mother indicted on conspiracy charges

In late 2007 and earlier this year, there was a great deal of outrage when a girl committed suicide over the verbal harassment by an online bully. Later you learned this bully was actually the mother of another girl who pulled off the stunt in an attempt to get information. The mother, Lori Drew, was indicted Thursday on one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress.

The story of Megan Meier is a sad one. Megan had a friend, Josh Evans, who was the “cutest boyfriend” she ever had. They met in September 2006, he was 16, an older guy, and owned a pet snake. Josh’s family never had a phone, so the only communication took place in chats and posts to MySpace accounts. The two were close, and exchanges over MySpace went on for weeks.

This is when things went to hell. Megan, who was already suffering with depression, started to get “mean” messages from Josh on or about October 15, 2006. The messages explained that Josh did not “like the way you treat your friends” adding, “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you.” To add to this, other kids got into the act joining Josh and posting profane messages to Megan’s account on MySpace. The result was a message that has been quoted several times, “The world would be a better place without you.” Crushed, Megan killed herself. Her mother, Tina Meier, discovered her body hanging in the closet by a belt.

The tragedy that was the Megan Meier case was only just starting. As it turns out, Josh Evans lived in the same quiet suburban neighborhood as Megan, in one of the houses on Waterford Crystal Drive in St. Louis. The real name for Josh Evans is Lori Drew, the mother of Sarah Drew, a girl who was at one time “joined at the hips” with Megan Meier. The relationship with Sarah and Megan ended, apparently not on good terms, though the cause is unknown.

Lori Drew, according to police reports, “…with the help of temporary employee named Ashley constructed a profile of a good looking male on MySpace in order to find out what Megan (Meier’s daughter) was saying on-line about her daughter. Drew explained the communication between the fake male profile and Megan was aimed at gaining Megan’s confidence and finding out what Megan felt about her daughter and other people. Drew stated she, her daughter, and Ashley all typed, read, and monitored the communication between the fake male profile and Megan.”

The police report goes on to point out that Drew was aware that the communication became “sexual for a thirteen year old,” however she continued the communications and the usage of the fake profile.

Later, Drew said in the police report that she did not feel “as guilty” for the girl committing suicide because at the funeral she discovered that “Megan had tried to commit suicide before.”

Lori Drew picture

Lori Drew went to the local Sheriff after the “neighborhood ...found out her involvement in Megan's suicide and her neighbors have become hostile toward her and her family.”

The truth is once word got out that an adult, the mother of another child who was once friends with Megan, was the cause of the drama and emotional stress that led it her death, saying the neighborhood was upset is a rather impressive understatement. Drew reported several cases of windows being broken and general harassment.

The harassment only got worse when users online, so called cyber vigilantes, took up Megan Meier’s cause and posted pages worth of private information. It was not until the police documents came out, and the cyber crews started to post information that Drew was identified as the person behind the death of the child. Ron and Tina Meier, the parents of Megan, would not disclose their neighbor’s name, while they had every right to do so. 

Online, the history and private life of Curt and Lori Drew became instant public record when names, addresses, phone numbers, business dealings, information and contacts, email addresses, and even photographs sprouted up on forums and blogs. In one quote given to the LA Times, the general rage and reasoning behind why personal information was posted allover the web is made clear by a neighbor of Drew’s.

"I posted that — where Curt works. I'm not ashamed to admit that," said Trever Buckles, 40, a neighbor whose two teenage boys grew up with Meier. "Why? Because there's never been any sense of remorse or public apology from the Drew’s, no 'maybe we made a mistake.' "

The news exploded and all over the press and online there were calls to tighten laws centered on cyber bullying. MySpace was singled out as a bully heaven, and other instances and stories of cyber bullies were give new light. The issue according to some was a serious threat, and needed dealt with. The troubling fact was that according to authorities, while disgusting and revolting, what Drew did was apparently not against the law.

Megan Meier's mother

St. Charles County, Mo., prosecutor Jack Banas said he had reviewed all of the laws related to stalking, harassment and child endangerment and couldn't find statutes that allow him to file charges against Drew. This sparked a completely new debate, and several laws were brought up, some on the federal level, that Drew could have been charged with.

Lori Drew's lawyer, Dean Steward said in a statement Thursday that they plan to challenge the charges. The challenge is due to Jack Banas' statements that Missouri authorities investigating Megan’s death found no state laws applying to the case.

While outraged, the community online had to deal with the truth that there might be no justice for Megan Meier, and that Lori Drew would get away with what she did. That is until this week. On Thursday, a grand jury in The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles handed down the indictment to the St. Louis woman and charged her with conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization.

The indictment explains the whole story surrounding Megan Meier and in one part says that when Drew learned of the suicide, she removed the fake MySpace page, and directed a juvenile who knew of the hoax to "keep her mouth shut."

"This adult woman allegedly used the Internet to target a young teenage girl, with horrendous ramifications," said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien. "After a thorough investigation, we have charged Ms. Drew with criminally accessing MySpace and violating rules established to protect young, vulnerable people. Any adult who uses the Internet or a social gathering Web site to bully or harass another person, particularly a young teenage girl, needs to realize that their actions can have serious consequences."

Among other things, MySpace terms of service require prospective members to provide truthful and accurate registration information; to refrain from using any information obtained from MySpace services to harass, abuse or harm other people; to refrain from soliciting personal information from anyone under 18; to refrain from promoting information that they know is false or misleading; and to refrain from posting photographs of other people without their consent. The indictment alleges that Drew and her co-conspirators violated all of those provisions.

"Whether we characterize this tragic case as 'cyber-bullying,' cyber abuse or illegal computer access, it should serve as a reminder that our children use the Internet for social interaction and that technology has altered the way they conduct their daily activities," said Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. "As adults, we must be sensitive to the potential dangers posed by the use of the Internet by our children."

One of the witnesses in the case will be Ashley Grills, who helped Lori Drew create Josh Evans. Ashley Grills was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony. Recently, Grills gave an interview to Good Morning America where she explained her side. She feels “deep remorse” for her role in the hoax, and never expected it to get this far.

The conspiracy count carries a maximum statutory penalty of five years in federal prison. Each count of accessing protected computers, each of which alleges that the access was for the purpose of intentionally inflicting emotional distress on Megan Meier, carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison. Drew will be summoned to appear for an arraignment in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in June.

However, this case can come with some interesting consequences. "This is a novel and extreme reading of what [the law] prohibits," Jennifer Granick, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said to Wired Magazine in a recent interview. "To say that you're violating a criminal law by registering to speak under a false name is highly problematic. It's probably an unconstitutional reading of the statute."

In another interview with the AP, John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor who leads a MySpace-convened task force on Internet safety said, "I think the danger of applying a statute in this way is that it could have unintended consequences. An application of a general statute like this might result in chilling a great deal of online speech and other freedom."

"Clearly the facts surrounding this matter are awful and very upsetting, and I certainly understand the instinct of wanting justice to be served," Palfrey adds. "On the other hand, this complaint is certainly unusual."

While the news of indictments means that Lori Drew could pay for her role in the death of Megan Meier, sadly it will not bring that little girl back. In the end, the daughter of Tina and Ron Meier died thinking that somewhere there was a boy named Josh who wanted nothing to do with her, and that she was alone.

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