The Megan Meier Story
We all know that kids can be cruel. We have all been "bullied" in some form or fashion when we were younger. I think most of us can agree that over the years it has gotten worse in many area but in the same respect, and many may disagree, I often think there are times in which more is made out of things. This is not such a case.
We all know the dangers of computers. As adults at least we realize that everyone that sits behind a computer screen may not be who they seem. Children, especially teenagers, are much more trusting. Think back when you were a teenager; you knew it all and your parent knew nothing. There were not evil people in the world; People do not lie to you. It is just how a teenager thinks and look out when someone of the opposite sex talks to them, or at least they think that is who it is. No one can convince them that the person is not real nor that they may have horrible motives. This is such the case with Megan Meier.
Megan was a thirteen year old girl, who lived in Dardenne Prairie Missouri, who had issues. What teenager does not? However, Megan's were a bit different. She had suffered from depression since she was a young child and had been in therapy for many years. She had trouble fitting in with others. By her eighth grade year her parents, Christina and Ron had decided to take her out of the local public school and enroll her in a Catholic school where not only was there more structure but they thought things like requiring uniforms and forbidding make up and jewelry would help Megan fit in more. Megan was trying to make it work.
Four doors down from the Meier family lived the Drew family. Curt and Lori Drew had a daughter, Sarah, who was close in age to Megan and the two girls had been friends off and on. Christina saw their relationship as a normal teenage girl relationship where they ran hot and cold on any given day. Lori Drew has been described and thinking of things differently. By most accounts Sarah also had difficulty making friends and when Megan and Sarah would be on the outs Lori seemed to want to step in and change things. There are reports that Lori had even gone to Christina upset that Megan did not spend time with Sarah anymore and was too busy with her new friends and trying to fit in at her new school. But, when haven't we all ran across a mother that seems just a bit off and overly involved in their child's issues. I do not mean that to sound callus in any way but I have dealt with a child who has issues with getting along with others and you do not go and get involved and try to force children to like each other. You give your child the tools to move on and deal with it in a proper way.
In September of 2006 Megan was on the computer and was on her MySpace account. For those of you who were not around, or too young to remember, MySpace was the precursor to Facebook. It was very similar in nature in fact. You posted pictures, and status updates and you had a list of friends, some you knew personally, some you did not. On this particular day Megan got a friend request from a guy named "Josh Evans." His profile said he was 16 years old and lived in a nearby town, the town in which most of the kids around Megan went to school, the school she had just left. Christina apparently monitored things pretty well and Megan was to ask before accepting any friend requests. So when Megan told Christina about Josh, Christina asked if she knew him personally and although Megan said no she was so excited about it and Christina approved. I am sure she intended to keep an eye on it as much as possible. Over the course of the next month Megan seemed to really cherish this friendship with Josh. She had learned that he was home schooled and had just moved to the area. He said in fact that he was so new they were yet to have a home phone and he did not have a cell phone. This would probably seem odd to you and me, who are adults, but to Megan it sounded perfectly reasonable.
Then on October 16, 2006, just about a month after Megan started talking to Josh his attitude seemed to change. Up to this point he had appeared nice and interested in what she was like. He had often complimented her on her looks and interests and Megan just loved that. Suddenly he begins telling Megan that he had asked around about her and had learned she was not a nice person or nice to her friends and he did not think they could be friends any longer. For Megan this was devastating. She told Christina who told her to just simply get off the computer and to stay off of it while she ran Megan's little sister, Allison to the dentist. While she was gone she called Megan who confirmed she had not done as she was told and she was still talking on the computer. Once again Christina told her to get off the computer, but being a teenager, being defiant and desperately wanting to fix things with Josh once again she did not listen. Soon it was Megan calling Christina, this time in tears saying that others had joined in and were posting things that said very nasty things about her such as "Megan Meier is a slut" and "Megan Meier is fat." The latter was a particularly harsh statement for Megan because she had struggled with weight over the years. For now the third time Christina told Megan to get off the computer and walk away and she would be home soon but when she did get home Megan was still near the computer and paying attention to what was going on. Christina took a glance and saw not only what others had said but Megan's particularly harsh and nasty words back. The last comment posted by Josh said "the world would be a better place without you." Christina obviously did not like what she saw but she expressed her disappointment and anger towards not just Megan for not listening when she told her to turn off the computer, but also at her responses back to people. Christina says that as Megan stomped off to her room the last words she heard from her daughter were "You're supposed to be my mom! You're supposed to be on my side!"
Now, I always have a joke that unless you're told at least once in your life by your child that they hate you, you are not doing it right. As parents it is our job to lead our children. It is our job to expect them to mind you and your rules no matter how ridiculous they think they are or no matter how much they hate this. This is what we do. In real life we are not coddled. I am one of those parents who thought it was ridiculous when it came to things like sports that did not keep score because we wanted all children to feel like winners. Life is full of disappointments and it does nothing to shield children from that. And that being said, I would have in all likelihood responded or reacted just as Christina did at this point.
Within less than a half an hour Christina and Ron were discussing the issue downstairs and Christina suddenly felt that something was wrong and ran upstairs to Megan's room. It was there that Christina was met with something no parent should have to go through. She found Megan hanging by her neck in her closet. Ron ran upstairs and together they got Megan down while 9-1-1 was called. Megan died the following day at the hospital. Just as any family would be the Meier's were devastated.
Amid all the chaos in the home pretty quickly either Ron or Christina had gone down to where the computer was. They obviously knew that whatever had transpired in the conversation with Josh is what sparked Megan to take her life. When they went to look they learned that Josh's profile had already been deleted.
About a month after Megan's death a neighbor had asked Ron and Christina to her home. This was not a neighbor that the Meier's were particularly close to but the woman insisted she needed to speak to them. Reluctantly they went and talked with the neighbor and in an instant their entire life changed. It was then that the neighbor informed them that Lori Drew, the woman who lived four doors down from the Meier's and semi-friends with them, had told her that she had created the "Josh Evans" profile in order to get Megan to talk because she believed that Megan was spreading rumors about her daughter Sarah and whatever information that was gathered she planned to use against Megan. According to the neighbor Lori Drew had laughed about this when telling her the story. Obviously the Meier's were livid! They soon remembered that they had a foosball table in their garage that they were holding for the Drew's as it was a surprise Christmas (or was it birthday?) gift for Sarah. Instead of going and confronting Lori Drew they went to their home, got the foosball table and took their anger out on that. They then loaded up the pieces and drove them the four houses down the street and dumped it in the Drew's front yard.
In response to the broken foosball table, Lori Drew called the police. Officer Edwin Lutz responded to the call which was described to him initially as a "neighborhood dispute." Lutz would later say that when he arrived at the Drew home the initial complaint had to do with the destruction of the foosball table, but according to Lutz, Lori Drew quickly changed the subject. He said she went into a story about why the Meier's were angry with her and told how she had created the MySpace page and that Megan had ultimately killed herself. Lutz would say that Lori Drew expressed that she felt guilty for what had occurred but that she was expressionless and very matter of fact in her statement to him.
It did not take long before the whole neighborhood knew what had happened and the Drew family was ultimately shunned but as far as the public at large or the media, no one else knew anything. Christina and Ron obviously were devastated and they knew the FBI was looking into the situation but they had been asked to remain quiet as to not set the Drew's off. Ultimately the stress of all that had happened took a toll on the Meier marriage and within a year they had separated, only to later divorce. Then a little over a year after Megan's death her aunt read an article about Internet harassment and she contacted the author of the article and told him of Megan's story. As all good journalist do, the author did his research on the case and interviewed as many people as possible. The Drew's would not talk but Christina did. By this time the Meier's were separated but they were also frustrated because they felt nothing was being done. The author agreed to write the story but although he knew Lori Drew's name he did not feel that it was proper to print her name. He said later his concern was for Sarah Drew. He feared that by naming Lori in his article it would bring more trouble for Sarah and the last thing he wanted was to see another child take her life. He later said in hindsight, while he agreed with his choice it was not long before people figured out just exactly who Lori Drew was and there became an Internet storm, as we call them. It was not long before Lori Drew and her family were being attacked on the Internet. They had already been shunned by all of their neighbors who knew the story, now their names, addresses, phone numbers, business information and more was being plastered on the Internet. Lori would later say she was forced to close her home based advertising business due to all of the publicity. Not only were the Drew's information posted but so was the information of an 18 year old girl named Ashley Grills. Grills had worked for Lori at some point and it was discovered that she, along with Lori and her daughter Sarah, had participated in creating the Josh Evans profile and harassing Megan.
On December 3, 2007 local prosecutor Jack Banas held a press conference to address this issue. According to his statement Ashley Grills had written most of the messages as Josh, including the last one. He stated that he had not interviewed Ashley and at that current time she was seeking psychiatric treatment because of her participation in the hoax. He also stated that after reviewing the issues there would be no charges filed against Lori Drew for her actions. The Meier's were angry to say the least. They claim that the prosecutor did not interview anyone but the Drew's and had taken Lori's word on how things happened. I can totally understand their anger and frustration but the reality of it is that at the time there really was little that could be done.
In response to this non action by the local authorities, federal prosecutors began to look a little deeper into things. Apparently they felt that something had to be done, and someone needed to be held responsible. This was not a joke simply thought up and perpetrated by a child. This was an admitted deliberate act by a grown adult who had admitted to creating a profile for the sole purpose of getting information to use against Megan at a later date.
I want to take a minute to point out a few things. At some point the Drew and Meier families were at least semi-close. In fact, Christina Meier had been a real estate agent and had sold the Drew's their home. As I stated earlier, Megan obviously had issues dating back several years and was in therapy. It is reasonable to believe that Lori Drew knew at least some of this. She had been angry it seems that Megan was no longer going to the public school and at the very least she had to have been aware that Megan was having issues which prompted her parents to change her schools. On top of this Megan and Sarah had been very close off and on throughout the years and Sarah would later claim that she had heard Megan more than once say she wanted to die. When asked if she had at the very least informed her mother of this, she stated no, but in answer to another question had stated that she shared everything with her mother so it is unclear just exactly what Lori Drew knew but it is reasonable she knew at least some of the issues. Note that I believe that even if Lori Drew knew nothing of Megan's issues her behavior was appalling but the fact that she likely knew some of the issues makes her behavior that much more heinous.
So federal prosecutors began looking for a way to hold Lori Drew responsible for her actions if for no other reason than to send a message to her, and others. They finally came up with the idea of charging her with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. So in May of 2008 Lori Drew was indicted on 4 counts. The first count was simply based on violating the CFAA by "accessing" a computer for "unauthorized use." The remaining three counts surrounded issues with violating the Terms of Service with MySpace. Now, I have said this many times and I will say this again here. While I find Lori Drew's actions horrendous and I agree that if there was a way to punish her, she should have been, these charges were pushing it for me and if they succeeded it could clearly change the Internet as we know it. I do not believe in finding new ways to punish someone that clearly is guilty in a way in which that new law, or charge, or court order could be construed in a way in which fairly innocent people can be charge. Obviously clearly Lori Drew's action were not reasonable and her creation of a MySpace account solely to harass a young girl were technically a violation of the TOS's. However, when we think about it, how many of us read the TOS when we sign up for a website? I would gander that very few of us do and when we start making things crimes based on violations of TOS's then we are opening a can of worms in which innocent lives could be ruined. But, playing devil's advocate here, I understand that what Lori Drew did was wrong and yet there were no laws on the books as of yet that would criminalize her action and this was the only recourse prosecutors felt they had.
By charging Lori for violating the TOS of MySpace the trial was to be held in Los Angeles California where MySpace was based. Her trial would begin in November of 2008. Ashley Grills had been given immunity for her role and Sarah Drew was never charged or threatened to be charged apparently. Both girls testified at the trial, however, both girls seemed to give very contradicting statements. It appears that the defense goal was to place most of the blame on Ashley Grills. It was their position that it was she who created the account on MySpace which made it her that violated the TOS's and not Lori Drew. Sarah Drew got on the stand and confirmed this but later seemed to say something different. Sarah confessed, mostly anyway, to her role in harassing Megan, and admitted knowing the issues that Megan had. Despite admitting on the stand to knowing that suicide was a possibility Sarah did not miss a beat when asking if she felt responsible for the death of her former friend when she stated, No. Officer Edwin Lutz, the man who responded to the destruction of the foosball table testified that Lori Drew had told him that it was she who had created the account. In essence the two things that really mattered when it came to the charges was who created the account and was there "unauthorized access." In the end the jury found her not guilty on most counts and simply convicted her of a misdemeanor for violating CFAA. This was likely the right verdict as there was reasonable doubt as to who created the account and it is hard to prove "unauthorized access" when it is your computer and in your home. In August of 2009 a judge responded to a motion of acquittal from Lori's defense and it was granted meaning the conviction was overturned and life went on as normal. Well, it went on as normal as it could for everyone. The Drew family had since moved from Missouri to another state (although thankfully for them that state has not been published, or at least easily found).
Christina Meier went on to establish the Megan Meier Foundation. They promote awareness to children and educators about bullying and cyberbullying. Christina travels the country giving speeches on the subject and telling Megan's story. In May of 2008, actually the day after Lori Drew was indicted on federal charges, Missouri passed a bill that would include penalties for cyberbullying that included things for text messaging or any other electronic devise. More than 20 states have followed suit since then. This is what was needed to bring Lori Drew to justice but since that could not happen at least we have it now. Sadly it came at the price of Megan's life but it did come.
When researching this case, my mind often went back to the Sylvia Liken's case. If you do not know that case, I have blogged about it in the past. What so reminded me of that case was the fact that we have what is supposed to be a mature adult leading the charge and recruiting other children to perpetuate violence towards another child. Yes, in the Liken's case there was much physical abuse and they (Gertrude and the children) deprived, beat and neglected Sylvia to the point it caused her death but one has to wonder just how far Lori Drew would have gone in the end.