May 16, 2008 -- The mother of a teenager who committed suicide after becoming the target of an online hoax said today that the woman charged with perpetrating the hoax deserves life in prison.
"She deserves the life sentence that our family has been given," Tina Meier said today on "Good Morning America."
She was referring to neighbor Lori Drew who was indicted Thursday for her alleged role in creating a fake MySpace page in the name of Josh Evans. She reportedly used the page to contact Meier's 13-year-old daughter Megan.
Megan Meier committed suicide in October 2006 and her parents have said their daughter's death was the result of the rapid decline of her online relationship with Josh, whom she believed to be a 16-year-old boy who first flattered the self-conscious girl and then taunted her.
Drew faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
"I am hopeful she will face the maxiumum 20 years in prison," Tina Meier said.
"Twenty years is unfortunately not enough for her," Meier added. "She played a ridiculous game with my daughter's life."
Megan hanged herself an hour after Josh said he no longer wanted to be her friend and told her the world would be a better place without her, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, where Drew was indicted.
Drew, 49, knew the Meiers and lived down the street from them in Missouri for years. She was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress on Megan.
"This adult woman allegedly used the Internet to target a young teenage girl, with horrendous ramifications," said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien in a written statement.
"After a thorough investigation, we have charged Ms. Drew with criminally accessing MySpace and violating rules established to protect young, vulnerable people."
Drew's family said in a statement released by their attorney, H. Dean Steward, "We are deeply saddened to hear of return of federal charges against Lori Drew...The US Attorneys Office in Los Angeles has taken a tragic case and added to that tragedy by their unfounded indictment."
"We look forward to the truth coming out in court. After the truth is presented, we are confident that Lori will be cleared of all charges," the statement said.
The indictment comes months after local prosecutors in Missouri declined to charge Drew, saying no laws had been broken. Tina Meier said she had also contacted the local office of the FBI, but they also could find no laws that had been broken.
Former prosecutors called the Los Angeles indictment unusual.
"This is a groundbreaking case," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "This opens up a whole new world of federal charges when people commit hostile acts on the Internet."
Parry Aftab, a cyberlaw expert, said on "GMA" that the case was an "important start" for protecting children online.
But other legal experts questioned if the prosecution went too far.
Joseph DeMarco, a former federal prosecutor in New York who handled cyber crime cases, said he was surprised by the charges, which were based in part on the fact that Drew allegedly violated MySpace's terms of service in order to inflict emtional distress on Meier.
"This seems to me to be pushing the limits of what traditional law enforcement should be," he said.
"You don't normally send people to federal prison for annoying, bullying or obnoxious conduct," he said.
Levenson said, "You're talking about using a computer service to harass and abuse other people and that you should not be allowed to do. But it is a slippery slope. What about someone just teasing someone? What about the guy who pretends to love someone?"
Six weeks after Megan's death, her mother, Tina Meier, said she learned from a neighbor that Drew was responsible for the fake MySpace page.
The extent of Drew's involvement in the hoax has been in dispute. According to a 2006 police report, Drew told police she and an 18-year-old employee named Ashley Grills created the fake profile so Drew could monitor what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter.
Drew has since denied creating and monitoring the profile, saying she only learned of the cruel messages that were being sent to Meier after the 13-year-old took her own life.
The local prosecutor, Jack Banas, has said that the police report overstated Drew's involvement. He declined to file charges in the case, saying no state laws had been broken.
"It's pathetic," Meier told ABC News at the time. "It's pathetic that we as a society do not have laws to protect our children or to protect us in general from somebody being able to hide behind a computer and do these despicable things."
Megan, who suffered from low self-esteem and battled depression since third grade, was elated when she got an e-mail on the social networking site MySpace from a cute boy named "Josh," her parents said. Josh claimed to be a 16-year-old boy who lived nearby.
"Megan was a goofy girl. Megan just giggled a lot," her mother said. "She was the class clown. She just found things very humorous that maybe other people didn't find funny. She would laugh hysterically."
Her giggling and laughter masked a sadness so severe that Megan would cut her arms and had told her mother she wanted to commit suicide.
"Seventh grade is when Megan had a really, really tough year," Meier said. "That was the year that Megan was really truly trying to fit in, and she just couldn't figure it out. You know and it's a tough year for a lot of children."
When "Josh" requested to be Megan's "friend," at first her mother was wary. "She had a new friend request and she looked at it and it was a picture of a really good-looking boy. She looked at me and said, 'Oh my gosh, Mom, he is so hot.' And I said, 'Do you know who he is?' And she said, 'No,' and I said then I don't think you should add him."
But Tina Meier said Megan was persistent and she finally relented.
"I was afraid that if I didn't, that she would close down," Meier said. "And you know, we had been working very, very hard on opening up and talking and building that relationship."
Megan and Josh's initial instant message exchanges were harmless, but Meier says she sensed there was something off about her daughter's new friend.
"I was very open with her. I said, 'You know, Megan, we don't know who this person is. This could be a 48-year old pervert. This could be a 16-year-old person or a 20-year-old person. Remember, people can be anybody they want to be on the computer.'"
The two developed a virtual friendship that lasted more than a month before things inexplicably took a downward turn. "Megan gets an e-mail, or a message from Josh on her MySpace Oct. 15, 2006, saying, 'I don't know if I want to be friends with you any longer because I hear you're not nice to your friends,'" Tina Meier said.
The next day, Ashley, posing as Josh, got into an argument with Megan online that ended with Josh saying that the world would be better off without Megan.
Megan hanged herself that day.
Ashley Grills, 19, said in an interview with "Good Morning America" that Lori Drew was involved in creating the account and wrote some of the messages to Meier.
"We were just combining ideas about how we can figure out what Megan was saying about Lori's daughter," Grills told ABC News' Deborah Roberts. "It was all three of us — me and Lori and her daughter."