ST. CHARLES — The story of a girl who killed herself after receiving cruel messages on the Internet is prompting calls from her family for legal reforms to better protect against online harassment.
Megan Meier, 13, of Dardenne Prairie, hanged herself Oct. 16, 2006, just minutes after receiving mean messages on the social networking Web site MySpace. The child died the next day and was buried in the polka-dot dress she had picked out to wear on her 14th birthday.
Megan’s parents learned about six weeks after her death that their daughter, who thought she was communicating online with a 16-year-old boy, was being deceived. The boy, Josh Evans, was created by a mother down the street who wanted to know what Megan was saying about her own daughter, who used to be friends with Megan.
According to a police report, that mother, who has not been charged with a crime, told the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department that she and her daughter took part.
What happened to Megan isn’t just awful, it ought to be criminal, said Megan’s mother, Tina Meier, on Monday.
“You cannot, absolutely cannot, as an adult, pose as a 16-year-old boy on a computer and play games with someone,” said Meier, 37, in an interview at a relative’s home in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles.
“If there’s not a law out there to punish someone for that, that’s despicable,” she said.
Lt. Craig McGuire with the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department said authorities could not find a crime to charge anyone with in Megan’s case.
“How do you legislate bad behavior?” he asked.
Megan’s family wants reforms that would make it illegal for adults to misrepresent themselves to children online and make it illegal to harass or bully online.
Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O’Fallon, is one of the state legislators who represents Megan’s community. She expressed sympathy for what the Meiers have been through, and is trying to see if existing Missouri laws can be improved. But, she noted, any legal reforms must protect freedom of speech rights. Also, she said, federal reform might be necessary, because someone from outside of the state could interact with Missouri children online.
Even so, effective laws often don’t come from trying to respond to one specific case, Davis said. It’s hard to know what would work as a response to Megan’s situation, she said.
“This girl was not threatened on the Internet. Somebody said some things that were extremely horrid,” she said.
Meier said the night before Megan died, the girl received a message from someone posing as Josh, saying he didn’t want to be her friend anymore, because he had heard she was mean to her friends. Meier believes that the next day about four people were sending bulletins and messaging her daughter, calling the girl “fat” and “a whore.”
Her husband, Ron Meier, has said he saw a message from Josh telling his daughter everyone hated her and the world would be a better place without her. He said law enforcement officials were not able to retrieve it.
Tina Meier, whose daughter was on medication for depression and attention deficit disorder, said she and her husband have considered a lawsuit but haven’t filed one yet.
The neighbor who allegedly created Josh Evans has not responded to the AP’s requests for comment.
Meier, who acknowledges she let her daughter open a MySpace account before she was 14 as the Internet site requires, said she monitored her daughter’s activities, logging on for her daughter and using software that was designed to capture Megan’s communications online.
MySpace did not comment specifically on Meier’s case, but an employee said the site does have information about keeping teens safe online, with guidelines for what people can do if they feel they are being bullied.
Meier said more needs to be done to protect children.
“We want the law to change so this doesn’t happen again,” she said.