Did a Cruel Hoax Lead to Suicide?
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Tina Meier and husband Rob, both 37, tried to get in touch with Josh—not to place blame on someone they believed to be a teen, but to offer a life lesson in how hurtful words can be. To their horror, though, they discovered that there was no Josh, that the whole thing had been concocted not by an immature kid, but by a neighborhood mother, Lori Drew, whose own daughter had had a falling out with Megan. Even now, a year after Megan's death—it took that long for some of the key parties to speak publicly—Tina Meier can barely contain her fury. "To my dying breath," says Meier, a real estate agent, "I feel what they did was absolutely criminal," referring to Lori Drew, 48, and husband Curt, 51, who supposedly knew about the hoax but did nothing to stop it. (Lori, who sells advertising, and Curt, a store manager, declined repeated requests for an interview for this article.)
Many others in the community share Tina Meier's outrage, especially now that it appears there may be no grounds for prosecuting anyone in the case. The Drews' home, which is four doors down from the Meiers', has been vandalized several times. Indeed, authorities are worried about the Drews' safety. "Any time we have that kind of emotional situation," says Lt. Craig McGuire of the St. Charles County Sheriff's Dept., "it causes a great deal of concern."
For the Meiers, one of the saddest aspects of their daughter's death (on Oct. 17, 2006) is that it came just as her life seemed to be on the upswing. For years, she had battled a weight problem. Her mom says Megan, who had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, had suicidal thoughts when she was in the third grade and was on the antidepressant Zoloft. Still, she was looking forward to her 14th birthday party on Nov. 4. She had lost some weight, her braces were coming off, and she had a new birthday outfit: a sleeveless dress with polka dots, and a silver tiara. "She joked about having her dad carry her down the stairs in a chair," says Tina.
It is unclear what prompted the hoax. According to a sheriff's report, which mentions Lori Drew by name, the neighborhood mother maintained in an interview that she had created the "Josh" account on MySpace, but said it was to monitor what Megan was saying about her own daughter. She insisted that "somehow" other MySpace users had been able to access the fake profile. But according to another neighbor, Michele Mulford, whose daughter carpooled with the Drews, Lori seemed to take delight in the prank. "They bragged about this to my daughter," says Mulford, who didn't know about the deception at the time, but was the one who informed the Meiers after finding out.
On the day Megan hanged herself Tina could see that her daughter was upset. Shortly before dinner she had raced up to her room, sobbing. When Tina didn't hear anything from upstairs for about 20 minutes she got concerned. When she went up she found Megan hanging in her closet. She died the next day. "I held her in my arms as they took all the monitors off," says Tina. "I held her until she took her last breath." When she and Ron, a machinist, later found out about Lori Drew's involvement, they took turns destroying a foosball table the Drews, incredibly, had asked them to hide as a Christmas present for their own kids.
Local authorities and a federal prosecutor looked into the case, but none could find any criminal law that had been broken. County prosecutor Jack Banas has vowed to file any charges he can, but he is not optimistic. "This is a problematic case," he says. The town has drafted an ordinance that would ban cyberbullying and the Meiers are pursuing a civil case against the Drews. For now, the grieving parents have only the memory of burying their daughter in the birthday dress she never got to wear.
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