Woman Indicted In Cyber-Bully Suicide

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a woman for her alleged role in perpetrating a hoax on the online social network MySpace against a 13-year-old neighbor who later committed suicide.

Lori Drew of St. Louis, Mo., allegedly helped create a false-identity MySpace account to contact Megan Meier, who thought she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Josh didn't exist.

Megan hanged herself at home in October 2006 after receiving cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her.

Due to juvenile privacy rules, the indictment refers to the girl as M.T.M., the U.S. attorney's office said.

In January, a Missouri state panel formed by Gov. Matt Blunt after the suicide met and said it would recommend making certain types of harassment a felony, such as if anyone 21 or older harasses people 17 and younger.

"This is an extremely rare case of an adult woman posing as a teenage boy but the cyberbullying is very real and very hurtful,'' notes CBS technology analyst Larry Magid. "About one-third of teens say they have been bullied or harassed online and though suicide is rare, there are plenty of cases where it has led to depression and extreme anxiety."

The unprecedented charges came out of Los Angeles because MySpace is headquartered there, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes. According to the indictment "Lori Drew created a fictitious account and used MySpace to "harass, humiliate, and embarrass...".

While no charges were filed in Missouri, Hughes reports, a local law was passed to outlaw cyberbullying - but some St. Louis neighbors have retaliated with cyber-payback at Rottenneighbor.com - posting: " jail lori drew now" and " ...shame her out of her home..."

Salvador Hernandez, assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, called the case heart-rending.

"The Internet is a world unto itself. People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses," Hernandez said.

Drew was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress on the girl.

"She should be punished because she knew exactly what she was doing," Megan's mother, Tina Meier, told CBS' The Early Show on Friday. "She was playing a game with my 13-year-old daughter. And there is absolutely no reason that she should be able to be walking on the street... We were served a life sentence without Megan, and she should be serving a life sentence."

Drew has denied creating the account or sending messages to Megan.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said this was the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social-networking case. It has been used in the past to address hacking.

"This was a tragedy that did not have to happen," O'Brien said.

Both the girl and MySpace are named as victims in the case, he said.

MySpace is a subsidiary of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Fox Interactive Media Inc., which is owned by News Corp. The indictment noted that MySpace computer servers are located in Los Angeles County.

Each of the four counts carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison.

Drew will be arraigned in St. Louis and then moved to Los Angeles for trial.

The indictment says MySpace members agree to abide by terms of service that include, among other things, not promoting information they know to be false or misleading; soliciting personal information from anyone under age 18 and not using information gathered from the Web site to "harass, abuse or harm other people."

Drew and others who were not named conspired to violate the service terms from about September 2006 to mid-October that year, according to the indictment. It alleges they registered as a MySpace member under a phony name and used the account to obtain information on the girl.

Drew and her coconspirators "used the information obtained over the MySpace computer system to torment, harass, humiliate, and embarrass the juvenile MySpace member," the indictment charged.

After the girl killed herself, Drew and the others deleted the information for the account, the indictment said.

Last month, an employee of Drew, 19-year-old Ashley Grills, told ABC's "Good Morning America" she created the false MySpace profile but Drew wrote some of the messages to Megan.

Grills said Drew suggested talking to Megan via the Internet to find out what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter, who was a former friend.

Grills also said she wrote the message to Megan about the world being a better place without her to get Megan to end the online relationship with "Josh" because Grills felt the joke had gone too far.

"I was trying to get her angry so she would leave him alone, and I could get rid of the whole MySpace," Grills told the morning show.

Megan's death was investigated by Missouri authorities, but no state charges were filed because no laws appeared to apply to the case.

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