Mo. city makes online harassment a crime

By The Associated Press

DARDENNE PRAIRIE, Mo. — City officials in this eastern Missouri community unanimously passed a measure last week making online harassment a crime, just days after learning that a 13-year-old resident killed herself last year after receiving cruel messages on the Internet.

The six-member Board of Aldermen on Nov. 21 made Internet harassment a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. Mayor Pam Fogarty said the city had proposed the measure after learning of the case of Megan Meier.

“It is our hope that by supporting one of our own in Dardenne Prairie, we can do our part to ensure this type of harassing behavior never happens again, anywhere,” Fogarty said, later adding, “after all, harassment is harassment regardless of the mechanism or tool.”

Megan Meier, 13, thought she had met a good-looking 16-year-old boy on the social networking site MySpace last year. But their online friendship changed. He began sending her mean messages and others joined in, her family said. The child hanged herself within minutes of receiving the last messages on Oct. 16, 2006, and died the next day.

Megan’s parents, Ron and Tina Meier, learned about six weeks after Megan’s death that the boy, Josh Evans, was not real. A mother from the neighborhood, who has not publicly commented, allegedly created the character after her daughter and Megan stopped being friends, because she wanted to know what Megan was saying about her child online, according to a police report. No one has been charged with a crime in the case.

The mother said in that report that her daughter and another person took part in the Josh Evans communications, but alleged others had somehow been able to access the profile.

Megan’s mother said earlier this week she believes about four people were sending her daughter cruel messages before her death. She said Megan was on medication for depression and attention deficit disorder.

Her father said he found a message from Josh, which he said law enforcement authorities have not been able to retrieve. It told the girl she was a bad person and the world would be better without her, he has said.

Internet users have been posting details about the mother who allegedly created the profile online and her family. Fogarty has asked police to add extra patrols in the neighborhood where the families live.

During a break in the meeting, Fogarty embraced Megan’s mother with tears in her eyes.

She said she was sorry there had not been a law previously in place to prosecute Megan’s harassers.

Tina Meier said she was thrilled that the city had passed the new measure.

“This is not a stopping point,” she said. “We’re not done.”

City officials also passed a resolution encouraging state and federal officials to pass legislation outlawing cyber-harassment and cyber-stalking.

The audience of several dozen people broke into applause after the measures were passed.