The parents of a 14-year-old 7th grader, suddenly alerted by their son’s classroom suspension that he’d been the long-running target of a bully at his school near St. Louis, Missouri, were terrified in April 2014 to find themselves with a suicidal child on their hands.
“No matter what I’d do, he’d manipulate it to make me look bad,” recalled the victim, Andrew, who was repeatedly pulled into the school counselor’s office and falsely accused of harassing the other boy.
Says Andrew’s mother, a teacher herself: “We didn’t know what to do.”
The family — whose last name PEOPLE is withholding — found their answer in Tina Meier, who knows all too well the pain and devastation bullying can inflict. Her 13-year-old daughter, Megan, hanged herself in her bedroom in 2006 after reading hurtful words online directed at her from a boy with whom she’d been flirting on the social site MySpace.
After the “boy” turned out to be a fiction partially created by an adult neighbor Lori Drew, who was the mother of Megan’s former best friend, Meier, 46, of St. Charles, Missouri, turned her agony into action.
To read more about Tina Meier and the work of the Megan Meier Foundation, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
In December 2007, she launched the Megan Meier Foundation with a $100 donation from her aunt. A month later, she found herself addressing a room full of Missouri school superintendents. “I was in such a state of grief and shock,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get through this without sobbing the entire time.’ But I knew I couldn’t keep quiet.”
That experience “gave me the fire” to move ahead with the nonprofit’s work, she says. Now with a $260,000 annual budget and 150 volunteers, the foundation has since taken its anti-bullying message and day-long workshops to more than 280,000 students, parents and educators across 36 states. Last August, the doors opened on the Megan Meier Foundation Resource Center in St. Charles, where students and families can benefit from free counseling, advice and advocacy.
Andrew, now 16 and thriving in another school, is grateful. “They helped me through the hardest time in my life,” he says.