When an online hoax leads to a teen's suicide, who's held responsible?
Update: St. Charles County prosecutor Jack Banas said Monday he will not file criminal charges in the case of the teenage girl who committed suicide after being bullied on the Internet, reports ABC News. This morning, both Megan's parents and the neighbor's attorney appeared on the TODAY show to respond.
When we heard about 13-year-old Megan Meier, the girl who killed herself after being cyber-bullied on MySpace, we were sickened. It was bad enough that cyber-bullying had driven this girl to suicide...but when we learned that the master plan was allegedly orchestrated by the mother of one of Megan's friends, we were flabbergasted.
In Tina's Own Words
"My daughter Megan passed away on Oct. 17, 2006. On Nov. 25, 2006, I received a phone call from a woman in the neighborhood that we didn't really know. She stated she had information regarding Megan's death, and wanted to have a meeting with us. Although we were hesitant, our grief counselor encouraged us to go--and even went along with us. This woman told us that 'Josh Evans' didn't exist. It was a fake MySpace profile that was made up by our neighbors. She told us that a mother had created 'Josh''s profile. This was a family I knew well. I sold them their house. We were storing their foosball table at that very moment in our garage. I mean, I was just blindsided.
"When I found out it was an adult who had masterminded this deadly hoax, I was overwhelmed and astounded. I just don't even know if there were any words. The grief of our daughter taking her own life was so fresh, I was numb and in another world. How could someone we knew and trusted...an adult...do this to our baby?
"Megan didn't want to die. Megan was handing out her 14th birthday invitations that morning, and she was ecstatic about her party. But she was so overwhelmed and felt so pressured by all this bullying. Megan felt there was just no other way to escape the pain. Kids who commit suicide don't think how everyone else is feeling. They don't even want to die. They just want the world and the pain to stop for a minute. Megan had a history of depression and ADD, so she was very impulsive. In that split second of despair, she just felt there was no other way out.
"In the police report, the mother I hold responsible says she created the MySpace page to gain Megan's trust and see if Megan was talking about her daughter behind her back. Nothing will bring Megan back, but I hope that by sharing my story I will spread the word about cyber-bullying and spare other families the pain that my family has suffered."
In response to the recent public outcry over Megan's suicide, a St. Charles County, Missouri prosecutor has announced plans to review the case to determine if any crime was committed. Local legislators are also looking at adopting an ordinance that would make Internet harassment a misdemeanor offense.
Dardenne Prairie Mayor Pam Fogarty, a mother of five, told Mom•Logic, "As a mother, I knew some bad things take place on the Internet, and I am protective of my children. When I heard this story, I just couldn't sit back and do nothing. I called the city attorney and said we needed to get this on the agenda immediately. " Fogarty is also pushing a resolution asking state lawmakers to make online harassment a felony statewide.
Do you agree? Send the mayor a shout-out at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can only hope that some new legislation comes out of this tragedy that might help other families.
How to Prevent Cyber-Bullying
No child should have to go through what Megan did, but cyber-bullying is an unfortunate reality in our Web-savvy world. For tips on protecting our children, we consulted Ross Ellis, president and CEO of the non-profit organization Love Our Children USA. "First, parents should keep kids' computers out in the open," she advises. "Monitor your kids' online activity. Know what sites they frequent, along with their user names and passwords." That way, if something objectionable is going on, you will be aware and can respond quickly.
If you fear your child is being cyber-bullied like Megan, Ellis recommends taking the following steps:
• Keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. Your child needs to know you are there for her now.
• File a complaint with the Web site in question.
• Alert school officials to the situation. Encourage them to institute a school-wide no-bullying policy.
• File a police report, or even a civil suit, against the cyber-bullies in question.
• Be on the lookout for warning signs of depression. If your child becomes quiet or withdrawn, or doesn't want to go to school or to after-school activities, talk to a guidance counselor or school psychologist immediately.