Megan Meier seemed to have found a new life just before her 14th birthdayboth in the tiny Dardenne Prairie, Mo., community where she'd been born and raised, and online.
Hoping to quell her anxieties about her appearance and to avert a too-common adolescent obsession with image and attractiveness, Megan's caring, protective parents had moved her from her former middle school to a local Catholic school mandating uniforms and modesty. She flourished there. Long insecure about her weight, she joined the volleyball team and lost 20 pounds. If the scholastic switch had meant she had grown away from any old neighborhood friends, she was making new friends and looking forward to inviting them all to a big birthday party.
She was especially enthused about a new online friend named Josh Evans. The cute 16-year old became something like a boyfriend over the month or so they had known each other, though they'd never met in person or even spoken by phone (his family ostensibly had Internet access, but no phone). They spent hours chatting online and exchanging messages on MySpace.com, the social networking site popular among teens. Much as her parents worried about the Internet's possible predators, and much as they may have been concerned about the attentions and intentions of this older boy, Megan was thrilled. A good-looking, charming and kind guy was apparently fascinated by her. Some of the angst and uncertainty of being thirteen fell away, and the sensitive girl was again the boisterous, confident presence she'd been as a child.
Map of Missouri with Dardenne Prairie locator
It sounds like a perfect childhood: Megan was a popular girl in a close-knit community. Ron and Tina Meier, a tool-and-die maker real estate agent respectively, were childhood sweethearts who had grown up in the area themselves. They married in 1990 and stayed to raise their family. Dardenne Prairie, 30 miles from St. Louis, was a booming bastion of middle class values. Waterford Crossing, the subdivision in which the Meiers' charming colonial sits on Waterford Crystal Drive, is a planned community both tightly regulated and closely knit. Neighbors look out for each other. The adults socialize over the fence and on weekends, and their children play and go to school together.
One friendly neighborhood family was the Drews. Megan and their daughter had been acquaintances, with an off-and-on-again friendship. The Drews even asked the Meiers to hide the kids' Christmas presents in their garage.
On October 16, 2006, just shy of that eagerly anticipated birthday, things went irrevocably wrong as a simmering feud came fatally to a boil. Josh and Megan were fighting on MySpace. He accused her of treating her friends poorly and saying horrible things about them. As she pressed for details, the squabble spread and drew in other teenagers on MySpace. Feeling attacked on all sides, Megan lashed out at her parents and stomped upstairs.
Twenty minutes later, sensing something may have happened, Tina Meier went upstairs to check on her daughter.
She found Megan in the closet. She had hanged herself with a cloth Old Navy beltover a boy who in fact did not exist.