Thursday, November 29, 2007

Who Will Protect the Children? A Tragic Case of Child Endangerment Goes Uncharged.

This tragedy only recently revealed by Missouri officials and reported on by the New York Times is about as sad and revolting a case of cruelty as you'll find. And it is an example of how certain kinds of child abuse remain free of legal restraint.

Megan Meier died believing that somewhere in this world lived a boy named Josh Evans who hated her. He was 16, owned a pet snake, and she thought he was the cutest boyfriend she ever had.

Josh contacted Megan through her page on, the social networking Web site, said Megan’s mother, Tina Meier. They flirted for weeks, but only online — Josh said his family had no phone. On Oct. 15, 2006, Josh suddenly turned mean. He called Megan names, and later they traded insults for an hour.

The next day, in his final message, said Megan’s father, Ron Meier, Josh wrote, “The world would be a better place without you.”

Sobbing, Megan ran into her bedroom closet. Her mother found her there, hanging from a belt. She was 13.

Six weeks after Megan’s death, her parents learned that Josh Evans never existed. He was an online character created by Lori Drew, then 47, who lived four houses down the street in this rapidly growing community 35 miles northwest of St. Louis.

That an adult would plot such a cruel hoax against a 13-year-old girl has drawn outraged phone calls, e-mail messages and blog posts from around the world. Many people expressed anger because St. Charles County officials did not charge Ms. Drew with a crime.
But a St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Lt. Craig McGuire, said that what Ms. Drew did “might’ve been rude, it might’ve been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.”...

Because Ms. Drew had taken Megan on family vacations, she knew the girl had been prescribed antidepression medication, Ms. Meier said. She also knew that Megan had a MySpace page.

Ms. Drew had told a girl across the street about the hoax, said the girl’s mother, who requested anonymity to protect her daughter, a minor.
“Lori laughed about it,” the mother said, adding that Ms. Drew and Ms. Drew’s daughter “said they were going to mess with Megan.”

After a month of innocent flirtation between Megan and Josh, Ms. Meier said, Megan suddenly received a message from him saying, “I don’t like the way you treat your friends, and I don’t know if I want to be friends with you.”
They argued online. The next day other youngsters who had linked to Josh’s MySpace profile joined the increasingly bitter exchange and began sending profanity-laden messages to Megan, who retreated to her bedroom. No more than 15 minutes had passed, Ms. Meier recalled, when she suddenly felt something was terribly wrong. She rushed to the bedroom and found her daughter’s body hanging in the closet.

As paramedics worked to revive Megan, the neighbor who insisted on anonymity said, Lori Drew called the neighbor’s daughter and told her to “keep her mouth shut” about the MySpace page...

Why the authorities did not prosecute Lori Drew for child endangerment, I can't understand. After all, in Missouri as in all states, there are child endangerment laws which make it a criminal offense to subject minors to inappropriate or dangerous situations. Though they are not the same as child abuse laws, which deal with persons who directly harm children, child endangerment laws also carry a similar penalty in the American judicial system.

A parent or babysitter breaks child endangerment laws by getting too drunk to properly watch out for the child in their care. The same laws are broken when a child is exposed to illegal drugs, firearms, dangerous chemicals, criminal activity and domestic violence. Persons trying to escape from the police are frequently convicted of child endangerment if there were children in their vehicle at the time of flight. You get the idea. The purpose of child endangerment laws is to keep children from witnessing adult or illegal activity, and to protect them from situations in which they might get hurt.

For a woman to deliberately engage in a conspiracy to hurt a child, especially when that adult woman has knowledge of the child's vulnerability and fragile mental health, is most definitely a case of child endangerment. That Ms. Drew was not charged is a sorrowful commentary on our justice system...and an example of how our culture in general is failing in a priority responsibility; namely, protecting "the least of these."

The rest of this story is here.