The voice-mail inbox for Lori Drew's cell phone is full. Of course, that's the least of her problems. If the name doesn't ring a bell, you likely only read her story as it was initially published, without her name. Drew is at the epicenter of a cyber hoax that may have triggered the suicide of a thirteen-year-old St. Charles girl named Megan Meier.
According to Meier's parents, their daughter had battled depression and self-esteem issues for several years, acting out with at least one suicide attempt. But Megan's spirits soared when she met who she thought was an attractive sixteen-year-old boy named Josh on MySpace. Eventually, on October 16, 2006, the fictitious Josh broke off the relationship with a farewell message that reportedly read, "Have a shitty life. The world would be a better place without you." That same night Megan hanged herself with a cloth belt from a support beam in her bedroom closet. The person who created the MySpace profile "Josh" is Lori Drew, the Meiers' 47-year-old neighbor.
It was the falling out between the two teens, she said, that made her do it. She wanted to see what Megan was saying about her daughter.
More than a year after Megan's death, on November 13, 2007, a lengthy account of the online ruse was published in the St. Charles Suburban Journal. Several million mouse clicks later, the small, middle-class suburban community of Dardenne Prairie, where the Drews and Meiers live just three doors apart, has been shaken to its core. The mainstream media and the blogosphere, with its countless anonymous voices, have stoked a firestorm of outrage — first, over the fact that the Drew family was not named in the Journal story, and later, over the cruelty of Drew's deception.
"Lori Drew is very much responsible for Megan Meier's death," wrote one blogger at Hits USA, "just as though she had shot or stabbed her."
Though the Drew family went unnamed in the Journal story, some key details mentioned in the article — specifically the fact that Tina Meier, a real estate agent, was the person who sold the Drews their home on Waterford Crystal Drive — enabled readers to track down numerous details about the family.
One of those details included the name of Lori Drew's advertising business, The Drew Advantage. A comment left on the business' profile at yelp.com called the MySpace deception a "crime worthy of being stoned to death."
When a weary Ron Meier, seated at his kitchen table, hears the Drews' home address, cell phone numbers, their business clients' contact information and other details are available with a rudimentary Google search, he says simply, "That's awesome." He later adds, "All that information needed to be out there a long time ago. They need to make their life a living hell. It won't be the hell my family lives with the rest of our lives, but it will be part of it."
The Drews could not be reached for this story. A knock on the family's front door went unanswered and the only sound inside came from a yippy dog. Their home phone has not been disconnected, but it rings endlessly. Neighbors say they haven't seen the family in days and have no idea as to their whereabouts. A person answering the phone at Coldwell Banker Gundaker in O'Fallon, where Curt Drew worked as a realtor, said Drew was no longer with the firm and quickly hung up.
The venom directed at the Drew family has drawn deep concern within law enforcement ranks, and police patrols in the neighborhood have increased since the story broke. "They'll basically end up doing the same thing to that family and their daughter that they did to Megan," says Lt. Craig McGuire of the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department. "We are concerned about the threats being made on the Internet. It's fostering an atmosphere of vigilantism that causes us a great deal of concern."
John McIntyre, who lives in a house across the street from the Drews, does not share the sheriff's concern. "Personally, I wish someone would throw a bomb in their house. I don't want to hurt the kids, but both the parents were on the Internet doing it," McIntyre says, his hand resting on the blond hair of his toddler-age daughter. "I read something that said that lady didn't kill Megan. But she's 47 and Megan was 13. The lady knew what she was doing. She knew how to push buttons."
The fact that there is currently no crime with which the Drews can be charged is particularly galling to many. In response, Dardenne Prairie's mayor, Pam Fogarty, and the city's aldermen last week passed the strongest measure they could against Internet harassment, making it a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. Fogarty says she hopes people will write their legislators and push for stronger state and federal laws.
In any event, the Drews cannot be charged after the fact, prompting some to try and take justice into their own hands — or, in this case, their computers. Since the story broke, there have been cries online for a boycott of the businesses that advertised with The Drew Advantage, not to mention Lori's overflowing voice-mail box and the humiliation of becoming one of the most vilified people on the World Wide Web.
Upon learning of the Internet deceit, an enraged Ron Meier drove his pickup truck onto the Drews' lawn and dumped the smashed bits of a foosball table that the Meier family had been storing as a Christmas present for the Drews' daughter, with whom Megan shared a tumultuous friendship.
On November 25, 2006 (two days after Thanksgiving), in response to Ron's destruction of the foosball table and citing "current tension in the neighborhood," Lori Drew called police. She filed a report, in which she told the officer she wanted to "just tell [the Meiers]" about the role she played in Megan's suicide, that she and a young employee named Ashley Grills constructed the fake profile.
That police call wasn't the last Lori Drew would make. She contacted authorities in December when a brick was thrown through her kitchen window and again in January, when Ron Meier, claimed Drew, shouted "Who are you going to kill today?" to the Drew family. In April, a paintball was fired at the Drew home.
Today, what remains unclear is how many people had access to the MySpace account and who sent the final malicious message that may have pushed Megan over the edge. The police report states, "Somehow other MySpace users were able to access the fake male profile and Megan found out she had been duped. Drew states she knew arguments had broken out between Megan and others on MySpace."
Such were the facts reported in the initial Suburban Journal article. Lori Drew was quoted only briefly, turning down her chance to elaborate on her version of events. The story was enough for the online community to instantly find the Drews guilty in the court of public opinion.
"I don't know the specifics of the case, I know it's probably a lot more complex than I understand. But Steve Pokin's piece was so well-reported I couldn't help but be horrified on the basis of his reporting alone," says Moe, a blogger for the popular site Jezebel, who was among the first to demand that the Drews' names be made public. "If our commenters succeed in putting this couple in the shoes of their victim, then it's worthwhile."
It is still not known who sent Megan the final message. The police report states that several people could have logged into MySpace as "Josh." Also overlooked is the fact that the last message sent to Megan was only seen by the Meiers and their daughter. It has since been deleted and the FBI has been unable to retrieve it. As printed in the Journal, the message is described as Meier's "best recollection."
Thomas Oltmanns, a professor of clinical psychology at Washington University, stresses that even if Lori Drew did send Megan the "have a shitty life" message, she's still not directly responsible for Megan's death. "Clinically, there had to be a whole bunch of other things going on. That's just common sense. Was it a terrible thing? Yes. On the other hand, if you did that to a hundred kids would they all commit suicide? No," Oltmanns says. "It does seem like that triggered her suicidal behavior, but there had to be a bigger context. There isn't just one factor that causes something like a suicide."
Such reasoning has done little to quell the outrage, some of which has had unintended consequences on and around Waterford Crystal Drive. The day after the article was published, a prank caller dialed 911 and reported a murder at the Drew residence. "I looked out into my front yard and all I saw was nothing but St. Charles police officers with shotguns and bulletproof vests," says Trevor Buckles, who lives in the house next door to the Drews. "It was kind of scary." Pete Kriss, another neighbor, says at first he worried that people might mistake his house for the Drews' home and is glad the address is posted online. "Now they know exactly where it is," he says.
If some harm were to befall a member of the Drew family or their property as the result of their personal information being posted in an anonymous comment on a blog, it would be nearly impossible to find someone to hold legally responsible. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that sites and Internet providers that allow commenters to publish anonymously cannot be held accountable for what's done with that information.
The Drews' travails, meanwhile, show little sign of abating anytime soon. Brant Walker is the creator of the Web site www.rottenneighbor.com, to which a satellite image pinpointing the location of the family's home was recently added. Walker says that even if the Drews end up fleeing the neighborhood, users of his site can post updates regarding their most recent whereabouts. "I think people want to take to the Internet and be aware and have some sort of justice," Walker says. "If everything about the original story is true, then what happened to the [Meiers] is much worse."
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