WASHINGTON – Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt signed a bill Monday outlawing cyberbullying, just miles from where a 13-year-old girl committed suicide nearly two years ago after being harassed on the Internet.
The bill updates state laws against harassment by removing the requirement that the communication be written or over the telephone. Supporters say the bill now covers harassment from computers, text messages and other electronic devices.
"Social networking sites and technology have opened a new door for criminals and bullies to prey on their victims, especially children," Blunt said. "This new law will ensure that we have the protections and penalties needed to safeguard Missourians from Internet harassment."
Megan Meier killed herself in October 2006, shortly after receiving mean-spirited messages over the Internet. Her suicide prompted the bill.
The teenager's mother, wearing a picture of her daughter in a pin on her dress, stood over the governor's shoulder as he signed the bill at a St. Charles County library.
Meier said she was grateful, but said much more needs to be done to make sure children are kept safe.
"This is certainly not the end," she said. "Bullying and cyberbullying is something that takes place every day. This is not just one case with Megan."
The news of the circumstances surrounding the teen's death surfaced after a local newspaper ran an article last fall. Since then, several Missouri towns have adopted new ordinances aimed at stopping cyberharassment. U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., has introduced a bill that would impose federal penalties for cyberbullying.
The Missouri measure also requires school officials to tell police about harassment and stalking on school grounds and expands state laws against stalking to cover "credible threats" not only against the victim, but also family and household members and animals. It also creates stronger penalties for stalking.
Megan had long suffered from depression and attention deficit disorder. In 2006, she began corresponding with "Josh" through MySpace pages. At first, the messages were positive.
But after several weeks, they turned mean. One told Megan "Josh" no longer wanted to be friends.
Shortly thereafter, Megan hanged herself in her bedroom. She died the next day.
There was no boy named Josh. Authorities said a neighbor, Lori Drew, her teenage daughter and an 18-year-old employee of Drew created a fake profile of an attractive teenage boy to see what Megan was saying about the daughter online.
Drew, 49, has pleaded not guilty in California, where MySpace is headquartered, to conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization.
Meier has become a strong advocate of stopping Internet harassment. She often speaks to schools and other groups. It doesn't erase the pain, she said.
"For me, Megan is still my baby," Meier said. "It's still hard. It touches my heart immensely to know the state of Missouri has worked so hard to honor my daughter and other families."