A suicide victim and the town that turned on her cyber-bully

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The Independent US

For almost a year, the families that live on Waterford Crystal Drive kept quiet about the MySpace tragedy. Not any more.

When Megan Meier's family moved to the neighbourhood, a brand new family-oriented development near St Louis, they hoped that their troubled 13-year-old would make friends.

Like millions of teenagers marooned amid the malls of suburbia, Megan turned to the online networking site MySpace for friendship. When "Josh Evans" started to exchange messages with her, Megan, a 13-year-old suffering from depression and attention deficit disorder, was elated.

Their friendship lasted about a month. Then "Josh" brutally ended it, telling her that he had heard she was a bad person. That night, 16 October 2006, Megan hanged herself in her room.

When the truth about "Josh" emerged six weeks later, her devastated parents suffered another blow. It turned out that an adult neighbour called Lori Drew who had fallen out with her daughter had pretended to be the 16-year-old Josh to gain the trust of Megan.

Megan's parents, Tina and Ron Meier, asked their other neighbours to not to discuss what had happened, while waiting for the police to take action. But nothing happened: there is no law against being cruel and immature. Local papers refused to identify the Drew family, to protect their teenage daughter.

But now, bloggers have taken on Megan's cause, with an outburst of virtual vigilantism. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that dozens of people have apparently been calling local businesses that work with the Drew family's company, which prints advertising. The Drews' home address, phone numbers, email addresses and photographs have also been posted on blogs such as RottenNeighbor.com and hitsusa.com. And there are reports that people are driving through the once tranquil neighbourhood in the middle of the night, screaming, "Murderer!"

To protect themselves to from vigilantes, the Drews, have placed security cameras on the roof of their house. They have also refused to talk to the media.

Megan's parents want to see the Drews prosecuted, and they want changes to the law to safeguard children on the internet. With cases of cyber-bullying being reported all over the country, their cause has the potential to become a nationwide movement.

Mrs Meier doesn't believe that anyone involved actually intended for her daughter to kill herself. "But when adults are involved and continue to screw with a 13-year-old, with or without mental problems, it is absolutely vile," she said.

Described as a "bubbly, goofy" girl who loved fishing with her dad, Megan struck up a friendship with "Josh" who told her that he was born in Florida and had recently moved to a nearby community called O'Fallon. Then he dropped her, telling her on 15 October last year that he had heard she wasn't nice to her friends.

The following day, Mrs Meier was taking another daughter to the orthodontist, and asked Megan to log off MySpace, where users must be at least 14. Megan called her mother, saying that messages were being posted about her saying: "Megan Meier is a slut. Megan Meier is fat."

After a row, Megan ran upstairs. Her father tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. Twenty minutes later, she was found dead. Mr Meier said he found a message the next day from "Josh", telling her she was a bad person and the world would be better without her.

Now police cars are patrolling Waterford Crystal Drive and prosecutors are trying to reopen the case.

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