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A town fights back in MySpace suicide case

It appears there's no law to punish whoever pushed a girl over the edge. A friend's mother is accused and scorned.

November 22, 2007|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

DARDENNE PRAIRIE, MO. — For nearly a year, the families who live along Waterford Crystal Drive in this bedroom community northwest of St. Louis have kept the secret about the boy Megan Meier met last September on the social networking site MySpace.

He called himself Josh Evans, and he and 13-year-old Megan struck up an online friendship that lasted several weeks. Then the boy abruptly turned on Megan and ended it. That night, Megan, who had previously battled depression, committed suicide.

The secret was revealed six weeks later: Neighbor Lori Drew had pretended to be 16-year-old Josh to gain the trust of Megan, who had been fighting with Drew's daughter, according to sheriff's department records and Megan's parents.

After their daughter's death, Tina and Ron Meier begged their other neighbors to keep the story private. Let the local authorities and the FBI conduct their investigations in privacy, they pleaded.

But after waiting for criminal charges to be filed against Drew, neighbors learned that local and federal prosecutors could not find a statute applicable to the case.

This community's patience has dried up. The furious neighbors -- and in the wake of recent media reports, an outraged public -- are taking matters into their own hands.

In an outburst of virtual vigilantism, readers of blogs such as and have posted the Drews' home address, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and photographs.

Dozens of people allegedly have called local businesses that work with the family's advertising booklet firm, and flooded the phone lines this week at the local Burlington Coat Factory, where Curt Drew reportedly works.

"I posted that, where Curt works. I'm not ashamed to admit that," said Trever Buckles, 40, a neighbor whose two teenage boys grew up with Megan. "Why? Because there's never been any sense of remorse or public apology from the Drews, no 'maybe we made a mistake.' "

Local teenagers and residents protest just steps from the Drews' tiny porch. A fake 911 call, claiming a man had been shot inside the Drew home, sent law enforcement officers to surround the one-story, white-sided house. People drive through the neighborhood in the middle of the night, screaming, "Murderer!"

The Drews, who have mounted cameras and recording devices onto the roof of their house to track the movements of their neighbors, declined to comment for this article.

Cyber-bullying has become an increasingly creepy reality, where the anonymity of video games, message boards and other online forums offers an outlet for cruel taunts. But it can be difficult to draw the line between constitutionally protected free speech and conduct that is illegal.

Still, Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and executive director of, points to one federal statute that may apply in the Meier case: the telecommunications harassment law. Amended in 2005, the law prohibits people from anonymously using the Internet with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.

Terri Dougherty, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis, declined to comment on whether prosecutors could apply the federal statute in the Meier case.

The mounting tension and heated emotions have local community leaders worried. The St. Charles County Sheriff's Department, which had rarely visited the suburb, now regularly patrols there. County prosecutors are reexamining the case.

On Wednesday evening, Dardenne Prairie's Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a law that makes cyber-harassment a misdemeanor -- with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail, $500 fine or both for each violation. It's the most stringent punishment available to the city.

"We're all in shock," said Mayor Pam Fogarty. "If I have anything to say about it, we'll never have our hands tied legally like this again."

Dardenne Prairie is an upper-middle-class enclave of about 7,400 people, about 35 miles northwest of St. Louis. Over the years, the flat expanse of farmland has been taken over by sprawling subdivisions, high-end bistros and strip-mall cafes.

The Meiers moved to the east side of town 13 years ago, where clusters of maple trees and prairie grasses still remain relatively undeveloped. Eager for more space at a budget price, the couple were drawn by numerous families and safe streets with names like Swan Lake Drive and Tri Sports Drive.

"There were kids everywhere, and they've all grown up together," said Tina Meier, 37, who works in real estate. "They ride their bikes together, have barbecues together, go on family vacations together, go to school together."

Megan befriended Lori and Curt Drew's daughter in elementary school, and the two became close, Meier said. When Megan transferred to a different middle school last fall, in an effort to help her deal with depression and get away from some bullies, the girls grew apart, her parents said. The Meiers declined to discuss the details behind the girls' estrangement.

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