Imagine your 13 year old daughter, who has battled clinical depression and has a history of some social awkwardnesses, finds a friend online though MySpace, a 16 year old boy, who makes her feel good about herself.
Imagine six weeks later finding your teenage daughter hanging dying in her closet, three weeks before her 14th birthday, after a torrent of abuse from this same boy and others on MySpace.
“Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”
Imagine that when you try and find this boy on MySpace to “let him know the deadly power of mean words”, that his account has been deleted.
Imagine comforting your neighbours’ daughter, your daughter’s sometime friend, and in the weeks after your daughter’s death, attending this girl’s birthday party when your daughter would never have the party you’d been planning.
Imagine, 6 weeks after your daughter’s death, discovering not only that the boy on MySpace never actually existed, but that he was actually an account created by this other girl’s parents, and that these parents whom you felt were trusted friends were actually the people who wrote the abusive messages that drove your daughter to killing herself.
Imagine only finding this out because they recruited another teen girl in the neighborhood to also send your daughter abusive messages, and her conscience has made her speak up.
Ron and Tina Meier’s daughter was named Megan.
“She had been encouraged to join in the joke,” the [third girl’s] mother said.
The single mother said her daughter feels the guilt of not saying something sooner and for writing that message. Her daughter didn’t speak out sooner because she’d known the other family for years and thought that what they were doing must be OK because, after all, they were trusted adults.
On the night the ambulance came for Megan, the single mother said, before it left the Meiers’ house her daughter received a call. It was the woman behind the creation of the Josh Evans account. She had called to tell the girl that something had happened to Megan and advised the girl not to mention the MySpace account.
Imagine that in the meantime, since your daughter’s death, these same neighbours have invited you to the husband’s 50th birthday party, and have asked you to store a game table in your garage ready for them to give their children at Christmas, as if they had nothing to do with your daughter’s death. Imagine too that they were well aware that your daughter suffered from depression.
How would you feel? A year later they say this:
“I know that they did not physically come up to our house and tie a belt around her neck,” Tina says. “But when adults are involved and continue to screw with a 13-year-old – with or without mental problems – it is absolutely vile.
“She wanted to get Megan to feel like she was liked by a boy and let everyone know this was a false MySpace and have everyone laugh at her.
“I don’t feel their intentions were for her to kill herself. But that’s how it ended.”
How did the Meiers feel back then? What did they do?
They took an ax and a sledgehammer to that game table, and put the pieces in a box spraypainted “Merry Christmas” on their neighbours’ drive.
What did the neighbours do, now that they knew their secret was out?
They tried to talk to the Meiers, who asked another neighbour to convince them to leave. They sent the Meiers a letter saying this:
“We are sorry for the extreme pain you are going through and can only imagine how difficult it must be. We have every compassion for you and your family.”
The neighbours also reported the destruction of the game table to the police, and this is where there is a record of the neighbour’s side of the story, although she now refuses to speak to reporters and claims that the police report is unreliable.
“I will tell you that the police report is totally wrong,” the mother said. “We have worked on getting that changed. I would just be very careful about what you write.”
The police spokesperson says that there have been no attempts to have the police report altered. In it the mother describes setting up the fake MySpace account, and then the events immediately prior to Megan’s death.
“According to (her) ‘somehow’ other ‘my space’ users were able to access the fake male profile and Megan found out she had been duped. (She) stated she knew ‘arguments’ had broken out between Megan and others on ‘my space.’ (She) felt this incident 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.'”
Tina says her daughter died thinking Josh was real and that she never before attempted suicide.
“She was the happiest she had ever been in her life,” Ron says.
Putting any untruths to the side regarding what Megan did and didn’t know, and whether she had or had not previously attempted suicide, what does it say about this woman that she feels less guilty about goading a person with suicidal tendencies into killing themselves than she would apparently feel if she goaded someone with no suicidal tendencies into killing themselves? That she can believe that if Megan was weak and damaged already, her culpability is somehow less rather than more? What planet of self-deluded entitlement does she live on?
The neighbours have since accused Ron of deliberately driving over their lawn in his pickup truck and doing $1,000 damage, and he faces misdemeanour charges relating to that.
Tina says she and Ron have dissuaded angry friends and family members from vandalizing the other home for one, and only one, reason.
“The police will think we did it,” Tina says.
The neighbours are facing no charges relating to their communications with Megan, as there is no statute which covers the events here. The Meiers want a law made to criminalise adults abusing children online.
Unsurprisingly, the Meiers (who are now divorcing) just wish that the other family would move away so that they never have to interact with them again (Tina, a real estate agent, helped them buy the home a few years ago).
This news article is very careful not to name the other family, claiming concern for that family’s teenage daughter. Comments on the article are quite scathing about them not naming and shaming the family, but the journal seems to have trod a fine line between the possibility of incurring legal action and getting the story out. After all, they name the Meiers and their suburban subdivision, which means that all the locals who don’t already know the story will be easily able to work out who the other family is. The naming might be omitted, but the shaming will still occur.
And that shaming needs to occur. The whole world doesn’t need to know this family’s name, but I’m glad that all their neighbours will know it. The mother sounds as if she’s in total denial of the magnitude of her actions, and what on earth made her think that setting up such an account to stalk her daughter’s friend was an OK idea in the first place? Teenage feuds are bad enough without adults getting involved and escalating it to an even more vicious level, and then refusing to take proper responsibility for what they have done.
This story via Crimitism, where Richie points out that
you can’t justify this kind of behaviour on the basis that only people who were sufficiently damaged to begin with will react badly, and therefore you aren’t responsible. It’s not “good fun” or “character building” to have a bunch of anonymous scum abuse and threaten you, and the oft-repeated idea that people need to toughen up rings utterly hollow when you consider the targets. An overweight teenage girl with anxiety issues and ADD is going to get the “guts” to shrug this off from where, precisely?
Harassment is never a joke, no matter how much some people would prefer other people to stop complaining that harassment causes them deep emotional pain and is not just something that can be lightly shrugged off.