LOS ANGELES – Invoking a criminal statute more commonly used to go after computer hackers or crooked government employees, federal prosecutors Thursday charged a Missouri mother with fraudulently creating a MySpace account and using it to “cyber-bully” a 13-year-old girl who later committed suicide.
The girl, Megan Meier, hanged herself in her bedroom two years ago, shortly after being jilted by an Internet suitor she thought was a 16-year-old boy. The case caused a furor when it was alleged that the “boy” was actually Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan’s former friends.
Drew, 49, of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., was indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles. She is accused of providing bogus information to Beverly Hills-based MySpace when she created an account in the name of the imaginary boy, Josh Evans. Drew then used the account to obtain information about Megan in violation of MySpace rules, which she used “to inflict emotional distress” on the girl, prosecutors allege.
Speaking at a news conference, U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said he believed it was the first case of its kind. He said Drew, posing as “Josh,” began flirting with Megan, telling her via e-mail that she was “sexy.” The flirting went on for weeks and their correspondence took on an increasingly sexual tone before Josh abruptly cut off the relationship. O’Brien said Josh told the girl “the world would be a better place without her.”
“This adult woman allegedly used the Internet to target a teenage girl with horrendous ramifications,” O’Brien said. “This was a tragedy that did not have to happen.”
Sal Hernandez, who heads the FBI office in Los Angeles, accused Drew of “hiding behind cyber walls in cyberspace” in allegedly perpetrating the hoax.
Drew, who faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted, is expected to be arraigned in Los Angeles next month.
News of the indictment left Megan’s parents, Christina and Ron Meier, in tears. The pair said they had all but given up hope that any criminal charges would be filed in their daughter’s death.
“I just want some justice after all this time,” Ron Meier said. “For the first time in as long as I can remember, I actually have hope.”
Local and federal authorities in Missouri initially looked into the circumstances surrounding Megan’s October 2006 death in Dardenne Prairie, an upper-middle-class town of about 7,400 people situated 35 miles northwest of St. Louis, but declined to file charges, saying they were unable to find a statute under which to pursue a criminal case.