Monday, November 19, 2007

myspace hoax

Parents of MySpace hoax victim seek justice
'No apologies' over teen who hanged herself over failed romance, kin say

Parents of MySpace hoax victim speak out
Nov. 19: TODAY's Matt Lauer talks to Ron and Tina Meier, parents of a teen who took her own life last year after being harassed online.
Today show


MySpace hoax leads to teen's suicide
Nov. 19: Teenage Megan Meier killed herself after being the victim of a cruel Internet hoax. NBC's George Lewis reports.
Today show

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updated 3:03 p.m. ET Nov. 19, 2007
The parents of a 13-year-old Missouri girl who hanged herself after a failed MySpace romance — later uncovered as a hoax — say they have yet to receive an apology from the family they blame for their daughter's death.

"They've absolutely offered no apologies," Ron Meier told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Monday. "They sent us a letter in the mail, basically saying that they might feel a little bit of responsibility, but they don't feel no guilt or remorse or anything for what they did."

Rather, said Tina Meier, the people are upset with her for going public with their story. Last week, while shopping, she ran into the woman who invented the hoax, Tina Meier said.

Story continues below ↓


"She asked me to stop doing all of this," she told Lauer. "I told her that we would not stop, that we were going to continue for justice for Megan because we knew what they did."

The Meiers' daughter, Megan, hanged herself Oct. 16, 2006.

The Meiers have not named the people because they do not want to identify their teenage daughter, who had once been a friend of Megan's.

After the two girls had a falling out, the mother invented a 16-year-old boy, "Josh Evans," created a MySpace account for him, and made Megan believe he was new in town and thought she was cool.

'Oh, Mom, you don't understand'
Megan, a girl who had battled attention deficit disorder, depression and a weight problem for much of her young life, believed him, despite her mother's warnings to be cautious.

"That was always the talk," Tina Meier told Lauer, repeating the conversations she had with her daughter: "'Megan, c'mon, we don't even know this person. Let's not get too excited.' She'd say, 'Oh, Mom, you don't understand.' So I did talk to her daily about that. But children at this age, they don't think that."

And then the boy turned on Megan, leading a campaign of vilification and online name-calling that ended when Megan took her own life.

For a year, the Meiers kept quiet at the request of both the FBI and local law enforcement officials while they investigated the incident.

Ultimately, investigators told the Meiers that while the hoax was cruel, it was not criminal.

'Continue to monitor your children'
The case remains open, though, and the Meiers continue to hope that criminal charges can be filed under a federal law passed in January 2006 that prohibits online harassment.

"We are still continuing on with the fight on the criminal and the civil side," said Ron Meier.

The family's story is, Tina Meier told Lauer, a cautionary tale about the trouble that lies in wait for kids on the Internet, a tale made more painful because they had monitored their daughter's Internet use closely and had talked to her about "Josh" and the events that ended so tragically.

"It was monitored highly," Tina Meier said of her daughter's MySpace account. "We had the password. She couldn't sign on without us. We had to be in the room" when she was online.

They have not filed a civil suit against the people who invented Josh, but are not ruling that out.

And they also want to warn other parents and children to beware of people online who claim to be their friends.

"Continue to monitor your children," Tina Meier told Lauer. "Take an extra step. Ask the question. Look at their computers, know what they're doing. To kids, don't trust anybody online that you do not know is your true friend."

Tina Meier has said that she doesn't think anyone involved intended for her daughter to kill herself. This newspaper has received an incredible response to Sunday's story on the death of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old who lived in Dardenne Prairie and committed suicide last year.

Many of you expressed appreciation to me and to the Journal for running the story.

Some of you have asked your children to read the story and have requested/demanded to look at their MySpace pages.

Of course, there has been outrage over the fact that Josh Evans - a 16-year-old who never existed - was created not by a teen, but by an adult. That anger is reflected in the comments posted on the Journal's Web sites.

Since the story ran Sunday Tina Meier, Megan's mother, has been contacted by other media outlets.

In brief, here's what happened.

Josh Evans had taken an interest in Megan, who for much of her life had battled depression and struggled with her weight. But according to her parents she was the happiest she had ever been.

Megan ended her life after Josh, whom she never actually met, suddenly became mean to her.

Six weeks after she died her parents discovered that Josh was created by a neighbor down the block, an adult woman whose own daughter had once been Megan's friend. This woman knew of Megan's depression, says Tina Meier.

According to a police report filed by the woman down the block, she created the account to check to see what Megan was saying, if anything, about her daughter. According to the police report, the woman, her daughter and an 18-year-old part-time employee monitored the Josh Evans account.

In Sunday's story the Journal did not name the woman because the newspaper did not want to identify her daughter. It was a decision I supported.

A few of you took us to task for not naming this woman.

I understand the loss the Meiers feel. But I told Tina in our very first conversation that even though we might have the legal right to publish a name, it doesn't necessarily mean we will.

Here are some of your comments. Many are taken from our Web sites.

"I have never responded to a news article before, but your story has not only moved me, made me cry, but has angered me. You are right. These laws need to change along with our so-called child predator laws." - Lisa K.

"The realization this can actually happen is truly frightening. THANK YOU for printing it" - R. W. Bross

"Your story in today's paper about Megan was sad but unfortunately an eye opener for every parent out there with a child that loves the Internet." - Heidi

"I hope your article strikes a chord with kids who may be planning (or may be currently doing) similar pranks on their friends, and make parents 'take notice.'" - Raymond Stone, St. Charles

"Your article in this morning's St. Charles Journal regarding the tragic and senseless suicide of young Megan Meier last fall, and the resulting criminal, legal, and familial progress and aftereffects, was a very powerful and moving piece, and I thank you for telling it." - Mandy Matthews

"I admire the courage of the Meiers to tell this story, and am astounded that it was actually ADULTS behind the fake identity that caused this young person so much unnecessary grief. It seems to me that justice has not been served in this matter." - GS

"This is a wake up call and I hope this story is out on the Internet for all parents to read and realize this could happen to them." - Kellie Keling, Wentzville

"I am a journalist myself, and I know the policy regarding not naming sexual assault victims, but none are involved here, and I cannot understand how you came to the decision not to name them." - Brian Russell, Alton

"This article was so upsetting that it made me sick to my stomach." - Ashley

"Parents today are so worried about being their child's friend and playing these adolescent games to prove how cool they are to their kid and the kid's friends, when what the kid needs is a parent." - Rachel

"This story is touching and sad. There should be a law and the Meiers would have my support. … Mrs. Meier, don't blame yourself for your daughter's death." - Tammy

And finally, a letter from someone who still feels the pain, and still struggles to look to the future, not to the past.

"I am hopeful that with this article we can start our journey to change the law and not let another family go through what we have gone through." - Tina Meier, St. Charles

bizarre and cruel Internet hoax that ended with the suicide of a 13-year-old girl has bitterly divided a western St. Louis suburb, provoked a firestorm in the blogosphere and raised troubling questions about how to police traffic on popular social networking sites such as

The death of Megan Meier in Dardenne Prairie, Mo., went beyond the growing phenomenon of cyber-bullying because the alleged instigators of the hoax were not only adults, but parents of a classmate of Megan's, who lived just down the street from her.

No charges have been filed. A local newspaper's decision not to publish the names of the parents involved has fanned a furious public response.

"People are just totally shocked. ... They can't believe that an adult would have done this," said Pam Fogarty, mayor of the town of 7,000 people.

"The scary part is that when you look at the blogs and listen to the phone calls we're getting, it's very quickly becoming a mob mentality," said Fogarty, who has arranged for additional police patrols in the neighborhood.

Cyber-bullying -- the Internet equivalent of schoolyard bullying -- has gained momentum as adolescents and teens have become Internet savvy. Polls have shown that at least one-third of youngsters reported they had been intimidated or harassed one or more times over the Net. Schools across the nation are now asking that students sign pledges to not send harassing e-mails to other students.

The involvement of adults in the Meier case breaks new ground, said Parry Aftab, an Internet attorney and executive director of, a cyber safety organization.

"When adults act like children there are criminal consequences," Aftab said. "The Internet should not be used as a weapon."

The Meier suicide occurred in October 2006, but it did not become widely known until last Sunday when the Suburban Journals newspapers, which cover the St. Louis suburbs, published a lengthy article detailing the hoax involving a fictitious 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans, who contacted Megan on

Their communication lasted six weeks, according to the Journal article, and ended with a string of disturbing messages from Josh and postings that read Megan was "fat" and "a slut."

The story reported Ron Meier, Megan's father, saying the final posting on the MySpace account read "The world would be a better place without you."

Late on the afternoon of Oct. 16, 2006, Ron and Tina Meier discovered Megan had hanged herself in her closet. Megan, who died the following day, was a few weeks shy of her 14th birthday.

The Journal added to the controversy by declining to identify the parents involved in the hoax, out of concern for the couple's daughter who had been a classmate and friend of Megan's.

"I've been a reporter for 34 years and this is beyond anything I've experienced," said Steve Pokin, who wrote the article and has been fielding e-mails and phone calls from people criticizing the paper for not identifying the adults.

Pokin said he doesn't always agree with his editors, but said they made the right call in not publishing the identity of the parents.

Regulating behavior on the Internet has proved enormously challenging.

In the year since Meier, who suffered from depression, killed herself, investigators in St. Charles County have not determined that any state law was violated. A spokesman for the St. Charles County Sheriff Department said the case has not been closed, although it has not found a violation. Jack Banas, the county prosecutor, said Friday he is examining an FBI report on the case to see if there is the potential of filing charges.

The Dardenne Prairie City Council this week said it is preparing to enact a law to make cyberspace harassment a crime in the city, punishable by 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

"It certainly isn't anything with any major teeth," Mayor Fogarty said, almost dejectedly, "but we have to do something."

Aftab said the federal statute designed to prosecute Internet harassment covers direct messages but not postings, even if they are harassing. "That's a hole that needs to be closed," she said.


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