POKIN AROUND: A real person, a real death
|Roy Sykes photos Tina and Ron Meier look up at the mausoleum gravesite of their daughter Megan, who would have been 15 on Nov. 6.|
"Mom! Mom! Mom! Look at him!" Tina Meier recalls her daughter saying.
Josh had contacted Megan Meier through her MySpace page and wanted to be added as a friend.Yes, he's cute, Tina Meier told her daughter. "Do you know who he is?"
"No, but look at him! He's hot! Please, please, can I add him?"
Mom said yes. And for six weeks Megan and Josh - under Tina's watchful eye - became acquainted in the virtual world of MySpace.
Josh said he was born in Florida and recently had moved to O'Fallon. He was homeschooled. He played the guitar and drums.
He was from a broken home: "when i was 7 my dad left me and my mom and my older brother and my newborn brother 3 boys god i know poor mom yeah she had such a hard time when we were younger finding work to pay for us after he loeft."
As for 13-year-old Megan, of Dardenne Prairie, this is how she expressed who she was:
M is for Modern
E is for Enthusiastic
G is for Goofy
A is for Alluring
N is for Neglected.
She loved swimming, boating, fishing, dogs, rap music and boys. But her life had not always been easy, her mother says.
She was heavy and for years had tried to lose weight. She had attention deficit disorder and battled depression. Back in third grade she had talked about suicide, Tina says, and ever since had seen a therapist.
But things were going exceptionally well. She had shed 20 pounds, getting down to 175. She was 5 foot 5½ inches tall.
She had just started eighth grade at a new school, Immaculate Conception, in Dardenne Prairie, where she was on the volleyball team. She had attended Fort Zumwalt public schools before that.
Amid all these positives, Tina says, her daughter decided to end a friendship with a girlfriend who lived down the street from them. The girls had spent much of seventh grade alternating between being friends and, the next day, not being friends, Tina says.
Part of the reason for Megan's rosy outlook was Josh, Tina says. After school, Megan would rush to the computer.
"Megan had a lifelong struggle with weight and self-esteem," Tina says. "And now she finally had a boy who she thought really thought she was pretty."
It did seem odd, Tina says, that Josh never asked for Megan's phone number. And when Megan asked for his, she says, Josh said he didn't have a cell and his mother did not yet have a landline.
And then on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006, Megan received a puzzling and disturbing message from Josh. Tina recalls that it 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."
Frantic, Megan shot back: "What are you talking about?"
Tina Meier was wary of the cyber-world of MySpace and its 70 million users. People are not always who they say they are.
Tina knew firsthand. Megan and the girl down the block, the former friend, once had created a fake MySpace account, using the photo of a good-looking girl as a way to talk to boys online, Tina says. When Tina found out, she ended Megan's access.
MySpace has rules. A lot of them. There are nine pages of terms and conditions. The long list of prohibited content includes sexual material. And users must be at least 14.
"Are you joking?" Tina asks. "There are fifth-grade girls who have MySpace accounts."
As for sexual content, Tina says, most parents have no clue how much there is. And Megan wasn't 14 when she opened her account. To join, you are asked your age but there is no check. The accounts are free.
As Megan's 14th birthday approached, she pleaded for her mom to give her another chance on MySpace, and Tina relented.
She told Megan she would be all over this account, monitoring it. Megan didn't always make good choices because of her ADD, Tina says. And this time, Megan's page would be set to private and only Mom and Dad would have the password.
Monday, Oct. 16, 2006, was a rainy, bleak day. At school, Megan had handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party and when she got home she asked her mother to log on to MySpace to see if Josh had responded.
Why did he suddenly think she was mean? Who had he been talking to?
Tina signed on. But she was in a hurry. She had to take her younger daughter, Allison, to the orthodontist.
Before Tina could get out the door it was clear Megan was upset. Josh still was sending troubling messages. And he apparently had shared some of Megan's messages with others.
Tina recalled telling Megan to sign off.
"I will Mom," Megan said. "Let me finish up."
Tina was pressed for time. She had to go. But once at the orthodontist's office she called Megan: Did you sign off?
"No, Mom. They are all being so mean to me."
"You are not listening to me, Megan! Sign off, now!"
Fifteen minutes later, Megan called her mother. By now Megan was in tears.
"They are posting bulletins about me." A bulletin is like a survey. "Megan Meier is a slut. Megan Meier is fat."
Megan was sobbing hysterically. Tina was furious that she had not signed off.
Once Tina returned home she rushed into the basement where the computer was. Tina was shocked at the vulgar language her daughter was firing back at people.
"I am so aggravated at you for doing this!" she told Megan.
Megan ran from the computer and left, but not without first telling Tina, "You're supposed to be my mom! You're supposed to be on my side!"
On the stairway leading to her second-story bedroom, Megan ran into her father, Ron.
"I grabbed her as she tried to go by," Ron says. "She told me that some kids were saying horrible stuff about her and she didn't understand why. I told her it's OK. I told her that they obviously don't know her. And that it would be fine."
Megan went to her room and Ron went downstairs to the kitchen, where he and Tina talked about what had happened, the MySpace account, and made dinner.
Twenty minutes later, Tina suddenly froze in mid-sentence.
"I had this God-awful feeling and I ran up into her room and she had hung herself in the closet."
Megan Taylor Meier died the next day, three weeks before her 14th birthday.
Later that day, Ron opened his daughter's MySpace account and viewed what he believes to be the final message Megan saw - one the FBI would be unable to retrieve from the hard drive.
It was from Josh and, according to Ron's best recollection, it said, "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."
BEYOND GRIEF INTO FURY
Tina and Ron saw a grief counselor. Tina went to a couple of Parents After Loss of Suicide meetings, as well.
They tried to message Josh Evans, to let him know the deadly power of mean words. But his MySpace account had been deleted.
The day after Megan's death, they went down the street to comfort the family of the girl who had once been Megan's friend. They let the girl and her family know that although she and Megan had their ups and down, Megan valued her friendship.
They also attended the girl's birthday party, although Ron had to leave when it came time to sing "Happy Birthday." The Meiers went to the father's 50th birthday celebration. In addition, the Meiers stored a foosball table, a Christmas gift, for that family.
Six weeks after Megan died, on a Saturday morning, a neighbor down the street, a different neighbor, one they didn't know well, called and insisted that they meet that morning at a counselor's office in northern O'Fallon.
The woman would not provide details. Ron and Tina went. Their grief counselor was there. As well as a counselor from Fort Zumwalt West Middle School.
The neighbor from down the street, a single mom with a daughter the same age as Megan, informed the Meiers that Josh Evans never existed.
She told the Meiers that Josh Evans was created by adults, a family on their block. These adults, she told the Meiers, were the parents of Megan's former girlfriend, the one with whom she had a falling out. These were the people who'd asked the Meiers to store their foosball table.
The single mother, for this story, requested that her name not be used. She said her daughter, who had carpooled with the family that was involved in creating the phony MySpace account, had the password to the Josh Evans account and had sent one message - the one Megan received (and later retrieved off the hard drive) the night before she took her life.
"She had been encouraged to join in the joke," the single 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.
AX AND SLEDGEHAMMER
The Meiers went home and tore into the foosball table.
Tina used an ax and Ron a sledgehammer. They put the pieces in Ron's pickup and dumped them in their neighbor's driveway. Tina spray painted "Merry Christmas" on the box.
According to Tina, Megan had gone on vacations with this family. They knew how she struggled with depression, that she took medication.
"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."
'GAINING MEGAN'S CONFIDENCE'
That same day, the family down the street tried to talk to the Meiers. Ron asked friends to convince them to leave before he physically harmed them.
In a letter dated Nov. 30, 2006, the family tells Ron and Tina, "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 Suburban Journals have decided not to name the family out of consideration for their teenage daughter.
The mother declined comment.
"I have been advised not to give out any information and I apologize for that," she says. "I would love to sit here and talk to you about it but I can't."
She was informed that without her direct comment the newspaper would rely heavily on the police report she filed with the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department regarding the destroyed foosball table.
"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."
Lt. Craig McGuire, spokesman for the sheriff's department, said he is unaware of anyone contacting the department to alter the report.
"We stand behind the report as written," McGuire says. "There was no supplement to it. What is in the report is what we believe she told us."
The police report - without using the mother's name - states:
"(She) stated in the months leading up Meier's daughter's suicide, she instigated and monitored a 'my space' account which was created for the sole purpose of communicating with Meier's daughter.
"(She) said she, with the help of temporary employee named ------ constructed a profile of 'good looking' male on 'my space' in order to 'find out what Megan (Meier's daughter) was saying on-line' about her daughter. (She) explained the communication between the fake male profile and Megan was aimed at gaining Megan's confidence and finding out what Megan felt about her daughter and other people.
"(She) stated she, her daughter and (the temporary employee) all typed, read and monitored the communication between the fake male profile and Megan ..
"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.
After years of wearing braces, Megan was scheduled to have them removed the day she died. And she was looking forward to her birthday party.
"She and her mom went shopping and bought a new dress," Ron says. "She wanted to make this grand entrance with me carrying her down the stairs. I never got to see her in that dress until the funeral."
NO CRIMINAL CHARGES
It does not appear that there will be criminal charges filed in connection with Megan's death.
"We did not have a charge to fit it," McGuire says. "I don't know that anybody can sit down and say, 'This is why this young girl took her life.'"
The Meiers say the matter also was investigated by the FBI, which analyzed the family computer and conducted interviews. Ron said a stumbling block is that the FBI was unable to retrieve the electronic messages from Megan's final day, including that final message that only Ron saw.
The Meiers do not plan to file a civil lawsuit. Here's what they want: They want the law changed, state or federal, so that what happened to Megan - at the hands of an adult - is a crime.
THE AFTERMATH IS PAIN
The Meiers are divorcing. Ron says Tina was as vigilant as a parent could be in monitoring Megan on MySpace. Yet she blames herself.
"I have this awful, horrible guilt and this I can never change," she said. "Ever."
Ron struggles daily with the loss of a daughter who, no matter how low she felt, tried to make others laugh and feel a little bit better.
He has difficulty maintaining focus and has kept his job as a tool and die maker through the grace and understanding of his employer, he says. His emotions remain jagged, on edge.
Christine Buckles lives in the same Waterford Crossing subdivision. In her view, everyone in the subdivision knows of Megan's death, but few know of the other family's involvement.
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.
Ron faces a misdemeanor charge of property damage. He is accused of driving his truck across the lawn of the family down the street, doing $1,000 in damage, in March. A security camera the neighbors installed on their home allegedly caught him.
It was Tina, a real estate agent, who helped the other family purchase their home on the same block 2½ years ago.
"I just wish they would go away, move," Ron says.
Vicki Dunn, Tina's aunt, last month placed signs in and near the neighborhood on the anniversary of Megan's death.
They read: "Justice for Megan Meier," "Call the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney," and "MySpace Impersonator in Your Neighborhood."
On the window outside Megan's room is an ornamental angel that Ron turns on almost every night. Inside are pictures of boys, posters of Usher, Beyonce and on the dresser a tube of instant bronzer.
"She was all about getting a tan," Ron says.
He has placed the doors back on the closet. Megan had them off.
If only she had waited, talked to someone, or just made it to dinner, then through the evening, and then on to the beginning of a new day in what could have been a remarkable life.
If she had, he says, there is no doubt she would have chosen to live. Instead, there is so much pain.
"She never would have wanted to see her parents divorce," Ron says.
Ultimately, it was Megan's choice to do what she did, he says. "But it was like someone handed her a loaded gun."