Dardenne Prairie officials Wednesday night told a couple who lost a daughter to suicide last year that they will pass a law to make cyberspace harassment a crime in this city of 7,000 and will also pass a resolution next week to encourage the state Legislature to address the problem.
"I cannot sit here and do nothing," said Mayor Pam Fogarty. "It is not in my nature."
Fogarty and the city's six aldermen were responding to a Sunday story in the Suburban Journal about Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl who killed herself Oct. 17, 2006. Megan took her life after a boy named Josh Evans had befriended her on MySpace, an on-line social network, and suddenly was mean to her.
The story has received national attention. The Meiers are scheduled to be interviewed by CNN Thursday afternoon.
Six weeks after Megan's death, parents Ron and Tina Meier, who live in Dardenne Prairie, discovered that Josh Evans never existed and, instead, was created by a woman who lives down the street. The neighbor's daughter had been a friend of Megan's but the girls had a falling out.
The Meiers were at Wednesday night's meeting, with Ron holding a photo of Megan.
"We want the laws updated," he told city officials.
Fogarty instructed City Attorney John Young to draft an ordinance that would make it a Class B misdemeanor - punishable by 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine - to harass someone over the Internet.
That is the maximum penalty for a fourth-class city such as Dardenne Prairie.
Young said that at the state level harassment is a Class A misdemeanor. Such crimes are punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Young said the state charge has not been updated since 1974. David Hamilton, who also represents the city, added that the language in the state law is so dated that it does not specifically address harassment via the Internet.
That's why city officials plan to pass a resolution at the Nov. 21 Board of Aldermen meeting urging the state to take action.
State Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-19th District, of O'Fallon, was in attendance.
Davis spoke publicly and cautioned that the dangers of cyberspace extend far beyond the boundaries of Dardenne Prairie, as well as Missouri and even the nation.
"I would love to file a bill for you," Davis said. "But I don't want to say, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of it.' And then I give you something that does not address the entire problem."
Davis said later she is "committed to exploring the options" of filing a bill and as quickly as Thursday would ask House staff researchers to look into the matter.
Ward 3 Alderman Mike Coyne responded to Davis. "You can't wait for the federal government to do something," he said. "It starts at the local level and the state level."
OK then, Fogarty said, might as well add a second resolution for next week: one urging the federal government to address cyberspace harassment.
Any new legislation would not apply to the circumstances of Megan's death.
The woman who created the fake MySpace page called police and filed a report Nov. 25, 2006, after the Meiers destroyed a foosball table they had been storing in their garage for the family down the street. The Meiers destroyed it on the day they learned the neighbor had created the phony Josh Evans account.
In that police report, the woman down the street told a sheriff's deputy she created the MySpace page to see what Megan was saying about her daughter. She also said the account was monitored by her, her daughter and an 18-year-old part-time employee.
The neighbor, when contacted by the Journal last week, disputed the accuracy of that police report. She has not been charged and is not being sued.
Megan had gone on vacations with this other family and they knew Megan battled depression, according to Tina Meier.
The Meiers, who are divorcing in large part due to Megan's suicide, were pleased by the steps taken by the city Wednesday night.
"It's a step," Ron said.
"I truly feel it's a start in the right direction," Tina said.
Nationally, politicians in several states are pushing legislation aimed at protecting children by requiring MySpace, which has 70 million users, and Facebook, which has 47 million users, to verify ages and to require parental permission for those under 18, according to the New York Times.
Missouri is not one of those states, said state Sen.-elect Tom Dempsey, R-23rd District, of St. Charles.
Facebook last month agreed to immediately post sterner warnings about the dangers to children and to respond quicker to complaints about inappropriate sexual messages.