A Missouri woman whose online taunting was blamed in the 2006 suicide of her 13-year-old neighbor now faces criminal charges.
A grand jury on Thursday handed up an indictment charging Lori Drew, 49, of O'Fallon, Missouri, which is 30 miles west of St. Louis, with one count of conspiracy and three counts of unauthorized computer access. A federal grand jury in California heard the case because that is where MySpace, the Web site where the taunting occurred, is located.
Drew faces a maximum of five years in prison on each of the counts.
Drew, her teenage daughter and a third woman, Ashley Grills, who worked for the Drew family, reportedly created a MySpace.com profile under the fictional name Josh Evans in order to taunt Megan Meier, who had been a friend of Drew's daughter and lived on the same block.
"After approximately four weeks of flirtatious communications between Josh Evans and [Meier], Drew and her co-conspirators broke off the relationship," the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California said in a statement. "Within an hour [Meier] hanged herself in her room. She died the next day."
Drew was vilified after the incident, which drew international attention. In a February 2008 interview she claimed to have been barraged with threatening calls after the story broke, and her address and phone number were posted online.
The case focused attention on the issue of cyber-bullying and on the failure of school anti-harassment laws in the U.S. to address this kind of behavior on the Internet.
Cyber-bullying is illegal in about 10 states, and a handful of others are now considering extending their laws to address the issue.
After county officials in Missouri investigated the incident in late 2007, they decided that the Drews and Grills had not engaged in criminal behavior and had set up the account only to monitor what Meier was saying about her former friend.
In contrast, the Thursday grand jury charges allege that Drew and the others used Josh to "torment, harass, humiliate and embarrass" Meier.