Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges in MySpace Suicide

Published December 03, 2007

| FoxNews.com

Missouri prosecutors will not file criminal charges in connection with the suicide of a teen who had been dumped by a fictitious boy on MySpace, officials announced Monday.

St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas announced at a news conference that there wasn't enough evidence to press criminal charges in connection with the death of Megan Meier, 13.

Meier of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., committed suicide last year after being dumped by "Josh," a boy created under the direction of Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan's former friends, who wanted to know what the girl was saying about her daughter online.

"Their purpose was never to cause her emotional harassment that we can prove," Banas said. "There's a difference between what people think or what we may believe the reason was that they created this, it's what we can prove and what a jury would believe."

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Banas said statements from the neighbor and two teens who participated in the fictitious account couldn't meet criminal standards for the state's statutes on harassment, stalking or endangering the welfare of a child.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation lead the investigation after the U.S. Attorney's Office was contacted by the Meier family, Banas said.

Meier's parents have contended her suicide was the result of the neighbor's MySpace harassment.

"There's no dispute that Mrs. Drew was aware of the creation of this MySpace," Banas said. "It was done by a young person that was in the employ of her — an 18-year-old girl along with her younger daughter — and the sole purpose by all parties that were involved in this was has been to find out what Megan was saying about this 13-year-old daughter of Mrs. Drew."

Megan's mother, Tina Meier, said last month she didn't think anyone involved intended for her daughter to kill herself.

"But when adults are involved and continue to screw with a 13-year-old, with or without mental problems, it is absolutely vile," Tina Meier told the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis, which first reported on the case.

Tina Meier said law enforcement officials told her the case did not fit into any law.

"You have a lot of facts that have gone out across this country that are a misstatement of facts, of things that occurred that actually didn't occur — some being true, some not being true," Banas said.

Megan Meier hanged herself in her bedroom on Oct. 16, 2006, and died the next day. She was described as a "bubbly, goofy" girl who loved hanging out with her friends, watching movies and fishing with her dad.

Megan had been on medication, but had been upbeat before her death, her mother said, after striking up a relationship on MySpace with Josh Evans about six weeks before her death.

Josh told her he was born in Florida and had recently moved to the nearby community of O'Fallon. He said he was homeschooled, and didn't yet have a phone number in the area to give her.

Megan's parents said she received a message from him on Oct. 15 of last year, essentially saying he didn't want to be her friend anymore, that he had heard she wasn't nice to her friends.

The next day, as Megan's mother headed out the door to take another daughter to the orthodontist, she knew Megan was upset about Internet messages. She asked Megan to log off. Users on MySpace must be at least 14, though Megan was not when she opened her account.

Someone using Josh's account was sending cruel messages. Then, Megan called her mother, saying electronic bulletins were being posted about her, saying things like, "Megan Meier is a slut. Megan Meier is fat."

Megan's mother, who monitored her daughter's online communications, returned home and said she was shocked at the vulgar language her own daughter was sending. She told her daughter how upset she was about it.

Megan ran upstairs, and her father, Ron, tried to tell her everything would be fine. About 20 minutes later, she was found in her bedroom. She died the next day.

Her father said he found a message the next day from Josh, which he said law enforcement authorities have not been able to retrieve. It told the girl the world would be better without her, he has said.

"Mr. and Mrs. Drew deny that they knew anything about the final message that went out," Banas said. "You're never going to prove one way or the other."

Another parent, who learned of the MySpace account from her own daughter who had access to the Josh profile, told Megan's parents about the hoax in a counselor's office about six weeks after Megan died. That's when they learned Josh was imaginary, they said.

Drew told the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department she created Josh's profile because she wanted to gain Megan's confidence to know what Megan was saying about her own child online.

A police report said Drew and her 18-year-old employee fabricated a profile for a teenage boy online who pretended to be interested in Megan before he began bullying her. The police report indicates others gained access to the profile, and it is not clear who was sending Meier messages just before her death.

Banas said based on additional interviews, the fake MySpace page was not created by Drew. He said the page was created by the 18-year-old employee, though the mother and her 13-year-old daughter knew about the page. He said he was unable to speak directly with the 18-year-old, whom he said has been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

Dardenne Prairie, a bedroom community of St. Louis, adopted a law making Internet harassment a crime after Meier's death.

Dardenne Prairie's assistant city attorney, John Young, said that harassment and stalking already are illegal, but the town's new law expands the definition to include electronic media.

Banas said there were aspects of current state law that needed to be addressed.

"There are some loopholes that probably do need to be cleaned up," he said. "The harassment statute says nothing about the Internet, although it's picked up in the stalking. But stalking requires repeated conversations.

"The other problem is, is it doesn't address a particular scenario where somebody else owns the computer such as a parent and is allowing or knowingly allows a child to send a message that ... it's intention is to cause emotional stress on another teenager or another person period," he said.

Naomi Harlin Goodno, an assistant professor at Pepperdine University School of Law in California, thinks the Dardenne Prairie measure looks comprehensive and well thought out.

Her overview of U.S. cyberstalking law, published in the Winter 2007 Missouri Law Review, was used by lawyers who drafted the new measure, Young said.

She found that as of January, that six states — Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Washington — have state laws specifically dealing with cyberstalking. Four others — Florida, Nevada, Delaware and Virginia — have amended their laws to address aspects of cyberstalking.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. MySpace is owned by News Corp., the parent company of FOXNews.com.

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