Neighbour 'drove girl aged 13 to suicide' with internet hoax

AT FIRST it seemed a tragic modern tale of a lost teenage love: an impressionable girl befriends a handsome young boy on the internet and is so devastated by his later rejection that she hangs herself in her bedroom.

But not all was as it seemed in the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier, of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri. Her online boyfriend and confidant, Josh Evans, was a hoax, a character created by others on the social networking website MySpace for the specific purpose of taunting her.

Yesterday, in what is believed to be first criminal case in the United States involving cyber-bullying, a neighbour who is the mother of the dead girl's former best friend went on trial in Los Angeles, charged under federal laws originally designed to thwart computer hackers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Meanwhile, the accused's lawyer has complained that, although his client is charged only with offences relating to the misuse of technology, for which she could face up to 20 years in jail, the emotions in the case effectively mean the jurors could hold Lori Drew, 49, responsible for Megan's suicide.

Dean Steward said: "The jury is going to end up thinking that Lori Drew is being tried for the death of Megan Meier."

George Wu, the US district court judge overseeing the trial, denied a request from Drew's lawyers seeking to exclude testimony about the suicide, but said he would stress to the jury that the case was about an alleged violation of MySpace regulations, which demand "truthful and accurate registration information".

Drew has pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy and three counts of using a computer without authorisation.

Megan's death, and the subsequent decision by authorities in Missouri not to charge Drew with any offence, caused outrage when details came to light in the autumn of last year, almost 12 months after the suicide. Police discovered that Drew, concerned Megan was spreading gossip about her own daughter on the internet, enlisted two others, the daughter and Ashley Grills, a teenage employee, to create a MySpace profile for "Josh, 16".

The three allegedly used the identity to contact Megan and correspond with her for several months, befriending her and encouraging her to say what she thought of her friends, including Drew's daughter, with whom she had recently fallen out.

"Mom, look at him. He's cute!" Megan's mother, Tina, recalled her daughter telling her, in an interview with her local newspaper. "Megan had a lifelong struggle with weight and self-esteem, and now she finally had a boy who she thought really thought she was pretty."

Then, Mark Krause, prosecuting, said, Drew and the girls turned on Megan, who was taking medication for depression and who was described as "vulnerable" by her mother.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In October, 2006, Grills, pretending to be Josh, became involved in an online row with Megan, finally telling her: "You are a bad person and everybody hates you. The world would be a better place without you."

Tina Meier remembers her daughter running upstairs in tears after the exchange. She found the girl hanging in her cupboard 20 minutes later.

Megan died in hospital the next day.

"Showing that this victim took the ultimate step of taking her own life shows the level of her distress," Mr Krause said.

When the deception was exposed, Drew and her family became the target of protests and called police several times about attacks on their home.

Prosecutors decided there were no Missouri state laws under which Drew could be charged, but authorities in California picked up the case under federal law, because MySpace has its headquarters there. Grills was offered immunity in exchange for testifying against Drew.

Tragic end to a suburban teenage friendship turned sour

THE saga that ended in suicide began when the Drew and Meier families were friends in the St Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie. Their daughters were the same age, attended school together and were also friends.

Megan, referred to in court documents as MTM because she was a minor, spent time with the Drew family and travelled with them, a prosecution memorandum said.

"However, their relationship was at times rocky," the document notes. "On occasions, MTM feuded with defendant's daughter."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Megan's mother, Tina Meier, confided in Lori Drew that she was concerned for her daughter's mental health and felt she was "particularly vulnerable", it said.

Eventually, the girls drifted apart, and in 2005 Megan transferred to a new school.

In the summer of 2006, Drew became concerned that Megan was spreading rumours on MySpace about her daughter.

"Josh Evans" was born on MySpace on 20 September, 2006, and was introduced as a new boy in town who was home-schooled and lonely.

The document said "he" contacted Megan, who quickly became smitten. After some innocent messages, Drew encouraged her co-conspirators to have him "flirt" with Megan.

Related topics: