No charges will be filed in connection with the October 2006 suicide death of 13-year-old Megan Meier, of Dardenne Prairie, who was the victim of a MySpace hoax involving a boy who never existed.
Jack Banas, the St. Charles County prosecuting attorney, said at a Monday press conference that he reviewed state laws regarding harassment, stalking and child endangerment and concluded that the intent of those who created the fake MySpace account did not meet the criminal threshold.
In fact, Banas said, Lori J. Drew, 48, the woman down the street who was involved in creating the fake account for "Josh Evans," was not even home on the day several mean messages were sent to Megan through the Josh account, including one that stated, "The world would be a better place without you."
Ron Meier, Megan’s father, said he believes that is the final message Megan saw before she went upstairs to her room and hanged herself.
Banas said Mrs. Drew had just arrived home when she saw the ambulance down the street, at the Meiers’ house, and that she quickly learned from her daughter and from a temporary employee about the messages that had been sent to Megan from "Josh."
Ron and Tina Meier, Megan’s parents, learned of Banas’ decision on Friday.
"I am very disappointed, very let down," Ron Meier said Monday. "It is almost worse to hear it this time than it was to hear it the first time."
Banas said that the messages between "Josh" and Megan were mostly benign until an Oct. 15, 2006, message that was sent from a different girl who had access to the Josh account, one who lived across the street from the Drews.
Banas said on Monday that most of the messages sent to Megan as Josh over six weeks were written by Ashley Grills, then 18, of O’Fallon, a temporary employee of Lori Drew’s business, Drew Advantage. Grills often worked from the Drews’ home.
Banas said it was Grills who typed what is believed to be the final message Megan saw and that it was Grills who was at the computer — in the Drews’ home — typing the messages, as Josh, to Megan during the afternoon before Megan killed herself. Banas said the Drews’ daughter, then 13, was with Grills at the time.
Banas said he was unable to interview Grills, now 19, because she has been under psychiatric care as a result of her involvement in Megan’s death. He said he saw no need to interview her at a later date.
Banas said that he knows what role Grills played because she was interviewed a year ago as part of an FBI investigation into Megan’s death. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern Missouri also decided not to file charges.
In November 2006 attorney Scott Rosenblum, who at the time was working for parents Ron and Tina Meier, interviewed Grills.
In that interview with Rosenblum Grills stated that when the final messages were sent to Megan as Josh that she was at the computer, with Mrs. Drew’s daughter, and Mrs. Drew was in the kitchen, fully aware of what was going on.
But Banas said Monday that Grills did not tell the truth in that interview, but did tell the truth when later interviewed by the FBI, when she stated that Mrs. Drew was not home.
"The girls involved in this will never forget this," Banas said. "Nor should they."
Banas said that Curt Drew, Lori Drew’s husband, knew about the fake MySpace account, and had told his wife and daughter it was a bad idea. Nevertheless, the account was not closed.
Curt Drew was home on the day the final messages were sent to Megan but was unaware that Grills and his daughter were on the computer, Banas said.
Grills and Lori Drew dispute whose idea it was to create the fake MySpace account, Banas said.
Grills says it was Mrs. Drew’s idea and Mrs. Drew says that her daughter and Grills came to her with the idea, according to Banas.
The Meiers and the news media have focused on a Nov. 25, 2006, St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department police report. That report states: "Drew stated in the months leading up (to) 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."
In a brief interview with the Suburban Journal Mrs. Drew said the police report was "totally wrong," but declined to elaborate on what she thought was incorrect.
Banas said that the report, in essence, is correct, but that in other separate interviews — including the one with him — Mrs. Drew consistently has maintained that it was not her idea to create the Josh Evans account.
Mrs. Drew’s daughter had been an on-again, off-again friend of Megan’s for several years. But in the summer of 2006 the two girls had a falling out.
Banas said that it was Grills who surfed the Internet and found Megan’s MySpace account. Megan would not accept either Grills or the Drews’ daughter as a "friend" on her account.
But Megan readily accepted Josh Evans as a friend. The phony account included the photo of a handsome 16-year-old boy who said he was new to the area, from a broken home and found Megan attractive. Megan and Josh struck up a friendship.
Banas said it was Grills who created the Josh Evans MySpace account.
Tina Meier closely monitored the account. She has said her daughter for many years had battled depression and struggled to keep her weight down and was thrilled that Josh had taken an interest in her. Megan had switched school to Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie and was the happiest she had been in years, her parents say.
Banas said that Mrs. Drew said she did not know Megan suffered from depression. Tina Meier has disputed that, saying Megan took vacations with the Drews and they knew.
Banas said that Mrs. Drew said she knew Megan had attention deficit disorder.
The actions of the Drews and Grills are not criminal under existing state law, Banas said, because their intent was never to harm, stalk, endanger or harass.
"They did it so they could find out what Megan was saying about Mrs. Drew’s daughter," Banas said. "That is undisputed.
"The only purpose was to find out what one little girl was saying about another little girl," he said.
It would not have mattered, Banas said, had Mrs. Drew typed the final messages.
Banas said his review of the case has brought to light loopholes in existing state laws that need to be "cleaned up."
For example, he said, the state charge of harassment makes no mention of the Internet. Banas said state lawmakers have already contacted him about what changes are needed in state laws. The city of Dardenne Prairie already has passed a cyberspace harassment law.
Banas said — as Tina Meier has said — in the hours before Megan took her life she had become upset and was firing off mean messages with foul language herself.
Tina Meier, who had closely monitored Megan on MySpace, had left her daughter alone on the account because she had to take her younger daughter to an orthodontist appointment. Megan had promised her mother to sign off as soon as she had finished writing a message.
She didn’t and things got worse after Mrs. Meier left the home.
On Oct. 15 Megan had received her first troubling message from Josh. It stated: "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 message did not come from Grills or the Drews. It came from another 13-year-old girl, who lives across the street from the Drews, who had been given the password to the Josh Evans account.
Banas said that up until that message, and the messages of the next day, the communication between Megan and Josh had been benign.
Banas said that Lori Drew told him that she cautioned Grills and her daughter to not let the conversation from Josh to Megan become sexual or vulgar.
Banas said Lori Drew should have ended the charade.
"The adults should have said something to stop this and not become involved in a spat with a couple of 13-year-old girls," Banas said.
"I think parents need to step back and take a look at what can happen when you become too involved with your child as a friend and not as a parent," Banas said.
Banas said he was aware of the national outrage directed at the Drews, much of it originating in cyberspace. Lori and Curt Drew have had their address and work, home and cell phone numbers posted on the Internet. One site showed a satellite photo of their home. A fake MySpace page was created for Curt Drew.
Banas said some of these actions against the Drews could constitute Internet stalking.
In addition, the Drews home has been vandalized.
"Because we can’t prosecute somebody it certainly does not justify violating the law," Banas said. "We live in this country by the rule of the law."
He described Lori Drew as "upset, cautious and guarded" when he interviewed her. Banas said that Mrs. Drew felt "terrible" about Megan’s death.
Banas said the Drews’ daughter, now 15, is attending a different school and is not currently living in Dardenne Prairie. He said Mrs. Drew was fearful of telling him where her daughter lives.
The Meiers did not attend Monday’s press conference, but Vicki Dunn, Tina’s aunt, was there.
"Tina has a lot of work ahead of her to get the laws changed and make sure this does not happen to anybody else," Dunn said.
Dunn said she was "somewhat" satisfied with Banas’ explanation of why criminal charges are not warranted.
"I understand the laws are the laws," Dunn said. "I’m not sure that I am satisfied. He (Banas) has this explanation from the Drews and now all of a sudden it is the truth."
Ron Meier questioned Banas’ review of the case.
"Did he ever talk to me? No," Mr. Meier said. "Did he ever talk to Tina? No. Did he talk to the 18-year-old employee? No. The only ones he ever talked to were Curt and Lori Drew."
Banas said he did not talk to Ron Meier because of a pending criminal vandalism charge. Ron Meier is accused of tearing up the Drews’ front lawn with his pickup truck in March. (Banas said Monday that he has not decided how his office will pursue this misdemeanor charge.)
Banas did, in fact, talk to Tina Meier on Friday. But Ron Meier said that conversation was primarily for Banas to tell Tina of his decision.
Banas was asked Monday if he came away from this case with insights or conclusions regarding cyberspace.
"You don’t know who you are talking to," he said.