The town where an Internet hoax apparently led to a teenage girl's suicide unanimously voted to make online harassment a crime today, according to The Associated Press.
The vote makes Internet harassment a misdemeanor and punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail, according to the report.
The ruling is a result of an incident that occured last year, where 13-year-old Megan Meier hanged herself inside her parents' home in Dardenne Prairie, Ill. The apparent cause of her suicide, her parents have said, was the sudden decline of her online relationship with a 16-year-old boy they thought was named Josh Evans.
But, soon after their daughter's death, Tina and Ron Meier discovered that there was no Josh Evans. They say the boy who pretended to be Megan's friend and then sent her nasty messages was the creation of an adult neighbor who still lives down the street from Ron Meier.
Though police and prosecutors have investigated, a year later, no criminal charges have been filed against the woman who allegedly created the online profile, and it's unclear whether any will be brought.
Tonight, the town's board of Aldermen will vote on a proposal to make online harassment a misdemeanor, said Mayor Pam Fogarty.
"It's not much, but at least it's something," Fogarty said of the proposed ordinance. "I think it's absolutely horrible that an adult can do this to a child, much less the mother of a friend and there is nothing to charge her with."
Though it appears the woman who created the online profile will not be criminally charged, that hasn't stopped an outpouring of hostility against her, both online and in the real world. In a police report filed last November, the woman complains that her neighbors have become "hostile toward her and her family" since learning of her role in Megan's suicide.
That antipathy has only increased since the story hit the national media late last week, with Megan's parents appearing on "Good Morning America" and the "Today" show. Though the newspapers and networks declined to identify the real-life "Josh Evans," bloggers quickly outed her and posted her family's name, address and phone number online.
Since then, messages threatening the family have been posted online. Photos of the woman's husband have been posted on the Internet. In the last year, since neighbors learned of what happened, a brick was thrown through their window. Someone drove a truck over their front lawn, according to police. A paint-ball was shot against the house.
The woman, who also has a young daughter, has received threatening phone calls; people have screamed obscenities as they drive by the house, a neighbor said. Police descended on the house in the middle of the night last week, police and neighbors said, after a fake 911 call was made.
Police are concerned that the harassment, first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, may escalate.
"We believe that all the publicity about this situation has led to an air of vigilantism," said Lt. Craig McGuire of the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department. "We're concerned people will take things into their own hands."
Megan, who sometimes suffered from low self-esteem and depression, was elated when she got an e-mail on the social networking site MySpace from a cute boy named "Josh Evans," her parents said. Josh claimed to be a 16-year-old boy who lived nearby. He said he was home-schooled and didn't yet have a phone.