|(TOM GANNAM/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
LOS ANGELES - A Missouri woman was indicted yesterday for her alleged role in perpetrating a hoax on the online social network MySpace against a 13-year-old neighbor who committed suicide.
Lori Drew of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., who prosecutors say helped create a fraudulent MySpace account to convince Megan Meier that she was chatting with a 16-year-old named Josh Evans, was charged with conspiracy and fraudulently gaining access to someone else's computer.
Megan hanged herself at home in October 2006, allegedly after receiving a dozen or more cruel messages she thought were from "Josh," including one stating that the world would be better off without her.
Salvador Hernandez, assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, called the case heart-rending.
"The Internet is a world unto itself," Hernandez said. "People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses. Whether the defendant could have foreseen the results, she's responsible for her actions."
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.
Drew has denied creating the account or sending messages to Megan.
Her lawyer, Jim Briscoe, did not immediately return messages seeking comment yesterday.
A man who opened the door at Drew's home yesterday said the family had no comment.
Megan's mother, Tina Meier, said she believed media reports and public outrage helped move the case forward for prosecution.
"I'm thrilled that this woman is going to face charges that she has needed to face since the day we found out what was going on, and since the day she decided to be a part of this entire ridiculous stunt," she said.
Megan's father, Ron, 38, said he began to cry "tears of joy" when he heard of the indictment. The two are now separated, a development Tina Meier has said stemmed from the circumstances surrounding their daughter's death.
MySpace issued a statement saying it "does not tolerate cyberbullying" and was cooperating fully with the US attorney.
US Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said this was the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a case involving a social-networking website. The statute has been used to address hacking.
"This was a tragedy that did not have to happen," O'Brien said at a Los Angeles news conference.
MySpace is a subsidiary of Fox Interactive Media Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif., which is owned by
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 website to "harass, abuse or harm other people."
FBI agents in St. Louis and Los Angeles investigated the case, Hernandez said.
Each of the four counts carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison.