Mom in Web bullying case turns grief into activism
By Betsy TaylorAssociated Press
DARDENNE PRAIRIE, Mo. ó When Tina Meier’s 13-year-old daughter committed suicide after being bullied on the Internet, her grief was so encompassing she felt at times she couldn’t breathe. She had trouble being around loved ones who reminded her of her child. Even today, recollections of those first holidays after Megan’s death are foggy at best.
But in recent months, the Missouri woman has focused on ways to protect other children from bullying, even leaving her job as a real estate agent to dedicate herself to the Megan Meier Foundation.
“Megan is still my daughter, no matter what, and I am going out there and fighting for her still because she is still my daughter,” Meier said.
A group of friends and relatives helped Meier create the foundation, which seeks to educate and encourage positive changes to prevent bullying and cyberbullying. Meier and the volunteers are working to improve laws. They speak at schools and to parent groups. They hope to begin offering scholarships to children who help other children in some way.
Megan hanged herself in her closet on Oct. 16, 2006. Her tragic story became public only last fall following an article in a suburban St. Louis newspaper that prompted widespread interest in her case.
Megan had a history of attention deficit disorder and depression. Her suicide came soon after she received mean messages through the MySpace social networking Web site.
Earlier this month, a federal grand jury indicted 49-year-old Lori Drew, a neighbor of Megan and her family. She is accused of one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress. The charges were filed in California where MySpace is based. MySpace is a subsidiary of Beverly Hills-based Fox Interactive Media Inc., which is owned by News Corp.
Authorities have said Drew, Drew’s teenage daughter and another teen took part in an online hoax, creating a fake boy named Josh Evans who befriended and flirted with Megan online. Drew allegedly wanted to know what Megan was saying about her own daughter online. Shortly before Megan’s death, the comments from Josh and some other Internet users turned cruel, with “Josh” allegedly saying the world would be better without Megan.
Drew’s attorney, Dean Steward, said she has been advised by her lawyers not to speak about the case. Another lawyer for Drew previously said she did not create the account and was not aware of any mean messages sent to the girl before her death.
Meier, 37, said her grief hits her in waves, and it remains difficult to talk about Megan’s death. Meier’s life has gone through other changes as well. She and her husband, Ron, divorced. Meier now lives in a town house not far from her old neighborhood with her 12-year-old daughter, Allison.
In an interview with The Associated Press at her home in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie, Meier said she does not believe Drew meant to drive Megan to suicide. But, Meier said, she believes Drew “played with fire” and should receive the maximum penalty: 20 years in prison.
Meier hopes the foundation’s work will allow something right to come from a wrong. She is also working with www.stopcyberbullying.org on its efforts to prevent online harassment. And, she’s encouraging people to take the Megan Pledge, an effort asking Internet users to stop bullying.
Talking about Megan’s experience to middle and high school students is something Meier said she feels she needs to do. She tells them Megan was a real girl, with real dreams, and talks to them about how taunting other children can have consequences.
The presentations can be an emotional drain that leave her feeling she’s made of Jell-O, or prompt an extended crying bout. But Meier said she gets a lot out of them, especially the conversations with parents and children after she tells them Megan’s story.
Some kids tell her they are having a tough time. Others have admitted bullying classmates, and say they’ll try to change their ways.
“I just get my head in a different place. I just go, and I talk to them because my goal is, if there’s one child I can change or help in any way, that’s what I focus on,” Meier said.
Friends and foundation colleagues Christine Buckles and Paul Arthur believe the foundation’s work has been helpful to her.
“They say a mother is the strongest woman in the world. That’s absolutely true with Tina,” Arthur said.
Meier said almost all the communication she receives from the public is encouraging. But she also receives comments from those who take her to task because her daughter was on antidepressants, who criticize how she raised her child, even those who judge her for divorcing her husband.
Meier is convinced those messages come from people who don’t know her and the whole story. “If I sat and listened to that every single day, and read that every single day, I wouldn’t move forward,” she said.
Meier believes the work of the foundation is making a difference because she hears from people who tell her so.
“I’m going to try and do the best I can do to, hopefully, know that no other family goes through this,” she said.
On the Net:
Megan Meier Foundation: www.meganmeierfoundation.org
Megan Pledge: http://www.myyearbook.com/meganpledge
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