Tears and Rage After the MySpace Suicide The journalist who broke the Megan Meier story talks about life in the Missouri neighborhood after a scandal.

Tears and Rage After the MySpace Suicide

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

So about two weeks ago, a local newspaper in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, printed a story that revealed a reason why a teenage girl may have committed suicide a year ago. And the details were so disturbing, the story caught fire around the country.

Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier had been chatting on MySpace with someone she thought was this cute, young guy who liked her. After a few weeks of friendliness, the boy turned on Megan, calling her names and reportedly told the world - told her that the world would be a better place without her. It was enough to send Megan into despair, and she hanged herself a short time later.

Now more than a month later, after that, her parents found out that the MySpace boy wasn't actually real. And what bothers people in this story is who made that boy up.

According to a police report, the parents of one of Megan's classmates - a girl who reportedly had a falling out with Megan - they were the folks who made up this online character.

Now no criminal charges have been filed against the family. And that appears to have outraged people who live in this community where it happened and all over the net. Some of them are retaliating against the family behind the fake MySpace profile by publishing the family's names, address, phone numbers and work information.

Steve Pokin is a columnist for the Suburban Journals of St. Charles County, Missouri. He wrote the story behind Megan Meier's death, and he joins me now.

Hey, Steve.

Mr. STEVE POKIN (Columnist, St. Charles Journal): Good morning.

MARTIN: Thanks for being here.

Mr. POKIN: Sure.

MARTIN: I want to start by saying that NPR is not reporting the name of the family who created this MySpace profile, this fake profile. Has your paper published the family's name, and what kind of discussions were there about that decision?

Mr. POKIN: We have not. That's always subject to change as circumstances change. You know, if there are, in fact, eventually charges filed, we would reconsider that. Or if the family is sued or sue somebody, we would certainly reconsider that.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Now have you talked to the family in question?

Mr. POKIN: Prior to the first story, I spoke to the mother briefly. She didn't have much to say. She was apologetic. She said she'd loved to talk to me, but she couldn't.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: And she said she was advised that she shouldn't. And I asked who advised her, and she didn't want to comment on that.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: And then, so that she was fully aware of our intentions, I said, well, if you're unwilling to talk to me, we're going to rely heavily on this police report. I'd much rather talk to you, but I do have this police report in which you talk about the MySpace account and what happened.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: And she then said that the police report was filled with errors. And that they had been trying to get those errors corrected.

MARTIN: So they have not admitted to doing this?

Mr. POKIN: They have not spoken publicly about it. They sent the other family, the Meiers family a letter in which they said they felt for their grief and their pain, and they understood what they were going through.

MARTIN: Okay. Now, you first published your story on this case November 13th. How immediate - and describe the reaction that came from this story.

Mr. POKIN: It was - the first story was published on November 11th.

MARTIN: Oh, I'm sorry. The 11th.

Mr. POKIN: Okay. And - yeah, there was - you know, I've been a reporter for 30 years, and I've never experienced anything like this. And I doubt that I ever will again.

MARTIN: Hmm.

POKIN: There was, you know, I was - with my column is my e-mail address.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: And I was inundated with e-mails. And then we - from our Web site, people can either post on our Web site or send us letters to the editor. And, you know, it was a - we were getting letters to the editor from - and we're a local newspaper…

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. POKIN: …from across the nation. And our Web site hits were just off the chart.

MARTIN: What were people saying? Were they mostly just disturbed by the facts of this story, that adults would create this fake MySpace account and say these disparaging remarks about this young girl that led to her suicide? Or were they angry about the family and wanting to out them?

Mr. POKIN: I think there was outrage at the family. There was outrage that how could this not be a crime.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: And then there were people who were upset with us for not naming the other family.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: And then there were - there was a lot of response from people who were very grateful that we ran this story and we brought this issue to light.

MARTIN: What is going on in that community? I mean, some of the reporting on this, it just sounds like this has touched so many people. It's angered - it's created so much anger and sadness. Can you explain what's going on? The families still live quite close to each other, correct?

Mr. POKIN: They do. They live on the same block, which is just a real - I don't know. It's just a real tense, uncomfortable situation.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: There have been acts of vandalism against the other family, the family down the block.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. POKIN: The father of Megan, his name is Ron Meier, he's currently facing a charge of misdemeanor vandalism for allegedly driving his truck and churning up their lawn. The other family has installed security cameras on their house…

MARTIN: Oh, my.

Mr. POKIN: …to thwart that.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you this. Has this prompted a larger conversation about the law and the Internet and this kind of nebulous space where something like this could happen?

Mr. POKIN: Yeah, absolutely. The community, the city where this happened is in Darden Prairie, and a city of 7,000 people. And the mayor read the story and immediately contacted the city attorney and said, what can we do? And they're a fourth-class city, they're a small city, so it's not a lot. But they immediately did that. They gathered and they have passed a law making cyber space harassment a - the best they could do is a class B misdemeanor, 90 days in jail, up to a $500 fine. But they did that.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. POKIN: And subsequently, the local state lawmakers have said that, you know, we're going to look at this in the coming session, which begins in January. We're going to take a close look at this and see what we can do.

MARTIN: Hmm. And what's the next step, as far as you're concerned, in this story? How this is unfolding?

Mr. POKIN: Well, the local prosecutor is still looking at the case. Apparently, there were some - he says, you know, he's looking at it for the first time. He didn't get a good look at it. There were some - apparently, some miscommunication between the sheriff's department which investigated it in his office. And he is looking at it, so the - I think the next step would be when he says he is or is not going to file charges against the family down the street.

MARTIN: What's it been like to cover this story for you?

Mr. POKIN: Oh, it's been an adventure.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. POKIN: It's - I've spent a lot of time trying to go through my e-mails, and, you know, I try to do the best I can in terms of devoting my time to people such as yourself who want to talk to me and…

MARTIN: Yeah. Well…

Mr. POKIN: …in continuing to do my job. I have the support of my editors to try to answer media requests.

MARTIN: It's a tough question. It's a tough story. Thanks for covering it.

Steve Pokin is a columnist for the suburban journals of St. Charles County, Missouri. He wrote the story behind Megan Meier's death. Thanks so much for being here.

Mr. POKIN: Well, thank you very much.

ALISON STEWART, host:

It's interesting, Rachel. We had a couple of people on our blog try to out the family. And, as you mentioned, it's NPR's policy - not to do so.

Stay with THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. We're back in 60.

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