Friday, December 7, 2007
FAMILY SHUNNED OVER MYSPACE HOAX, TEEN'S SUICIDE
DARDENNE PRAIRIE, Mo. — Waterford Crystal Drive is one of those suburban streets that seem so new as to have no history at all. But the suicide of a teenage girl — and allegations she had been tormented by a neighbor over the Internet — have brought a reaction that is old, almost tribal, in its nature.
Residents on the middle-class subdivision have turned against the neighbor, Lori Drew, and her family, demanding the Drews move out. In interviews, they have warned darkly that someone might be tempted to "take matters into their own hands."
"It's like they used to do in the 1700s and 1800s. If you wronged a community, you were basically shunned. That's basically what happened to her," said Trevor Buckles, a 40-year-old who lives next door to the Drews.
Drew became an outcast after she admitted inventing "Josh Evans," a good-looking teenage boy who chatted online with 13-year-old Megan Meier. Megan received cruel messages from Josh that apparently drove her to hang herself in her closet in 2006.
Through her lawyer, Drew, a mother of two in her 40s, has denied saying hurtful things to the girl over the Internet, and prosecutors have said they found no grounds for charges against the woman. Neverthess, the community reaction has been vengeful and the pressure on the Drews intense.
Last December, after neighbors learned of the Internet hoax, someone threw a brick through a window in the Drew home. A few weeks ago, someone made a prank call to police reporting that there had been a shooting inside the Drew's house, prompting squad cars to arrive with sirens flashing.
Someone recently obtained the password to change the Drew's outgoing cell phone recording, and replaced it with a disturbing message. Police would not detail the content.
Clients have fled from Drew's home-based advertising business, so she had to close it. Neighbors have not seen Drew outside her home in weeks.
Death threats and ugly insults have been hurled at Drew over the Internet, where she has been portrayed as monster who should go to prison, lose custody of her own children, or worse. Her name and address have been posted online, and a Web site with satellite images of the home said the Drews should "rot in hell."
Some of the threats "really freak me out," Buckles said while standing on his front porch after dark Tuesday night. As he spoke, a car slowed and stopped in front of Drew's home. It sat there idling for a few long minutes, then sped away. Buckles said it is a common occurrence.
"I just really hope that no one comes out here and does something insane," Buckles said. "If they do, I hope they get the right house."
Sheriff's Lt. David Tiefenbrunn said patrols have been stepped up around Drew's house. "There could be individuals out there with a vigilante-type attitude that might want to take revenge," he said.
The Drews — Lori, husband Curt and two children — live a one-story ranch. An older man at the house who described himself only as a relative said Lori Drew would not comment. He would not say if the family planned to move.
Ron and Tina Meier's home is four houses away from the Drews'. The sidewalk is curved, so the neighbors can't see each other from their front doors. The breach between the once-friendly families seems beyond repair.
"I think that what they have done is so despicable, that I think it absolutely disgusts people," Tina Meier said. "I can't take one ounce of energy worrying about who does not like Lori Drew or who hates Lori Drew. I could not care less."
Just a year ago, Waterford Crystal Drive was the kind of quiet suburban street where joggers waved hello while kids played in their front yards. Lately the road has been choked with TV news trucks, and neighbors hustle inside to avoid questions.
The row of brick-facade homes, with basketball nets and American flags out front, was carved out of the woods and pastures in the mid-1990s. Between rooftops, residents can see the neon signs of the strip mall restaurants near a highway that carries commuters some 35 miles to jobs in downtown St. Louis.
The subdivision and those surrounding it have street names evoking the good life, from Quaint Cottage Drive to Country Squire Circle.
The Drews used to fit in just fine, said John McIntyre, who described Lori Drew as an intensely social woman who never hesitated to stop and talk. She and Curt came over to McIntyre's home to look at his glassed-in porch because they were thinking of adding their own, he said.
McIntyre fondly remembered another guest — Megan. She came across the street to baby-sit McIntyre's 4-year-old daughter Genna and arrived with a clipboard and notes, determined to do the job right. He said the activity was good for Megan, who suffered from depression for years.
"She was a good kid," McIntyre said.
Megan became friends with the Drews' young daughter and the girls remained close for years, according to a report provided by prosecutors. But the girls had a falling-out in 2006.
Lori Drew and an employee, referred to only as a teenager named Ashley in the report, created a fake MySpace page so they could monitor what Megan was saying online about Drew's daughter, the report said. Ashley sent Megan most of the messages from "Josh," and Lori Drew was aware of them, prosecutors said.
On Oct. 16, 2006, there was a heated online exchange between Megan and Ashley, who was posing as Josh. It ended when "Josh" said the world would be better off without Megan.
Tina Meier said her daughter went to her room, crying and upset. About 20 minutes later, Megan was found hanging from a belt tied around her neck.
Drew's attorney Jim Briscoe said on NBC on Tuesday that Drew "absolutely, 100 percent" had nothing to do with the negative comments posted online about Megan and wasn't aware of them until after the girl took her life.