The New Yorker Dissects Megan Meier’s Suicide

Lauren Collins has written a comprehensive piece on Megan Meier’s suicide, published in this week’s issue of The New Yorker. Part crime report, part profile of a troubled and complicated teen, part critical analysis of a neighborhood (and a culture) in which such a tragedy can occur, this is a must-read if you’re interested in the case and the issues it raises.

The piece is heavier on reporting than reflection, but Collins does make this astute observation toward the beginning of the article. The “MySpace Suicide Hoax,” she writes,

threw first Dardenne Prairie [the St. Louis suburb where the Meiers live] and then everyone else—guidance counsellors, techies, First Amendment advocates, parents, bloggers, parenting bloggers—into paroxysms of recrimination. They were all certain that something sick, and distinctly modern, had happened, but no one could agree about whether its source was a culture that encouraged teen-agers to act too grownup or one that permitted grownups to behave like teen-agers.

It’s not often that I read a magazine with a pen in my hand, but I picked one up after reading that paragraph and proceeded to underline maybe a dozen passages, each of them rich with detail on the case and the ensuing fallout.

I didn’t know, for example, that Megan had expressed suicidal tendencies as early as third grade, or that she had been placed on a triple regimen of prescription drugs that included the antidepressant Celexa; Concerta, for attention-deficit disorder; and Geodon, a mood stabilizer. Or that Tina Meier, Megan’s mother, had contacted the police after an exchange with whoever was logged in to the “Josh Evans” account, hoping to find out whether he was legitimate (to no avail, Collins reports).

I had assumed, but did not know until reading this article, that the town and the families involved had been plunged into chaos and scandal in the weeks following Megan’s suicide. Consider this:

On November 25, 2006, the day that Ron and Tina learned that Josh Evans was a fabrication, they went to their garage and removed a Foosball table. They had been storing it at the request of the Drews, who planned to give it to their children as a Christmas present. Using an axe and a sledgehammer, Ron and Tina bashed the table to pieces. They dumped the debris in the Drews’ yard, in a box on which Tina had spray-painted “Merry Christmas.”

And this:

Pam Fogarty, the mayor, had two hundred unanswered e-mails in her in-box. “People are shocked, and they’re pissed as hell!” she told me. Fogarty shared her constituents’ indignation. The week before, by a unanimous vote, the town’s Board of Aldermen had passed Ordinance No. 1228, “providing for the offenses of harassment and cyberharassment within the city of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri.”

Whether out of shame for what they did or over rumors sparked by what they did not do, the Drews had assumed a bunker mentality. Neighbors said that Curt Drew had taken to getting into his minivan and backing down the driveway to retrieve the mail. Their daughter is not attending school. Someone threw a brick through their kitchen window and, in April, the side of their house was splattered with a paintball. “I’ve got a county here that people are busting these people’s property up, setting up fake Web sites,” [Meiers’ attorney] Jack Banas told me. “I’m getting calls from India and France!”

I’ve been blogging about Megan Meier in recent weeks, and I, too, have detected an unusual amount of reader interest and investment in the case. There’s undoubtedly something compelling and puzzling about the story that people are drawn to and struggling to understand. Collins’s article does not solve the mystery, but all the clues are there in plain sight.

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