The story of the death of Megan Meier chilled me to the bone. A year ago, at the tender age of 13, she took her own life. In and of itself, this is a tragedy - and a scenario that, sadly, has been heard of before. What makes it even more heinous is that it seems the catalyst for her death was created by the mother of a girl with whom she had once been friends.
Like many girls that age, Megan ended a friendship with a girl who lived just four houses away from her. This is not unusual. During the teenage years, friendships often come and go. I remember being "best friends" with a girl during eighth grade, only to find in ninth grade that I had been replaced by someone else. I was hurt at the time but got over it, as most girls do.
But according to accounts in the St. Charles Journal and the New York Times, the mother of the former friend, Lori Drew, decided to "mess with Megan." She created a MySpace.com page in the name of 16-year-old Josh Evans, a boy who did not exist, but who became all too real to the shy Megan, who had bouts with depression off and on throughout her short life. For about a month, Megan and "Josh" flirted online. Then, one day in October of 2006, Megan received a message from "Josh" that said:
"I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends."
That was the beginning of the end. Unsure as to why "Josh" would say such a thing, Megan responded, only to receive other devastating comments from "Josh" and other kids with whom he had shared their correspondence. According to Megan's father's best recollection, the final message she received from "Josh" was the following:
"Everybody in O'Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a s***** rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you."
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Megan's mother Tina found her hanging in her closet from a belt. Megan died the next day, the day she would have gotten her braces off, and just three weeks before her 14th birthday.
Lori Drew's role in the "Josh" MySpace page was only revealed several weeks later by another neighborhood girl who had been let in on the "joke." Drew has not been charged (there are no statutes directly relating to the case), and she said in a police report from a related incident (the destruction of the Drews' foosball table by the Meiers) that she felt she "contributed to Megan's suicide, but she did not feel ‘as guilty' because at the funeral she found out Megan had tried to commit suicide before." It's chilling to realize one is capable of so callously disassociating oneself from such a situation.
How could a grown woman do this to a child? Even if Megan hadn't had depression issues, the angst caused by this so-called prank would have been just as real and hurtful. Lori Drew supposedly started the hoax in order to find out what Megan thought about her daughter. But since when do children need their parents to fight schoolyard battles for them? Unless there is relentless bullying involved (and considering Megan's history it seems unlikely), a parent's job is to impart wisdom such as, "Things like this happen in life. You have other friends; it'll be okay." Setting appropriate examples is what responsible parenting is all about.
Instead, Lori Drew thought it would be amusing (the neighbor who first reported the hoax after Megan's death claimed she laughed about it) to create a fake person to befriend Megan online...a person who would ultimately turn on her, and create the situation that caused Megan to decide life wasn't worth living.
Of course, this isn't the first such instance we've heard of where a parent will do just about anything to help her child. Back in 1991, Wanda Holloway tried to hire a hitman to kill the mother of her daughter's cheerleading rival in a bid to get the rival to drop out of the running. But Lori Drew behaved more like a child than the adult she is, and she is not alone. Sadly, many parents today would rather be a friend than a role model and disciplinarian to their children - trying to fit in with the youngsters instead of being old fogies. In the 2004 movie Mean Girls, the mother of popular Regina George dresses like her daughter and serves Regina and her friends cocktails after school in a bid to be "one of the girls." It's depressing that a real-life parent would go beyond what is funny in a movie -- and then go on to justify her behavior afterward because the girl whose life she helped destroy had problems with depression.
Unlike Lori Drew, the Meiers sought to behave like parents should -- monitoring Megan's MySpace account closely and advising her to ignore the hurtful comments hurtling through cyberspace -- but the outcome was beyond anything they ever imagined would happen.
In her book "The Death of the Grown-Up," Diana West said, "Manners and conduct...are deconstructed by postmodern Mom and Dad." In this case, conduct was deconstructed all the way down to brass tacks. It's not unusual for teenage girls to engage in petty spats. What is unusual is for an adult to take an active part in those spats.
Children today are faced with a myriad of situations unheard of in their parents' day, thanks to the wonders of technology. Now instead of having to get the nerve up to tell a rival off on the playground, kids can anonymously send hurtful and even threatening messages to each other without immediate consequences, if any. So much is said online that would not be said in a face to face encounter. While the Internet is responsible for many wonderful things, it is also responsible for a nosedive in civility. But it's tough to tell the kids to behave when adults are acting just as rashly and irresponsibly. (Have you seen some of the comments sections at many online newspapers and blogs?)
In the case of Megan Meier, lives have been unalterably shattered. Not only did they lose their daughter, but Tina and Ron Meier have lost their way -- riddled by guilt and depression, they are getting a divorce. Also, their other daughter, Allison, must now deal with the pain of having her parents divorce in addition to the pain she must feel in the wake of her sister's suicide. To their credit in today's tort-happy society, the Meiers are not seeking to sue the Drew family, but hope that state or federal law will be put in place so that if what happened to Megan happens to another child at the hands of an adult, it will be a crime.
Despite their grief and sorrow, the Meiers continue to behave like adults. Had Lori Drew done the same, perhaps no one outside of O'Fallon, Missouri would have ever heard of Megan Meier.