I can’t stay away from this story, partly because I can relate to it, and partly because a good friend’s daughter goes to the same school Megan Meier did.

The story is getting a lot more attention now. And a good number of people believe they have the name and address of the unidentified hoaxers, based on clues in the article.

So now what?Not everyone knows this, but in 1996 I was a criminal justice reporter for the Columbia Missourian. If this had happened in Columbia in 1996, it’s entirely possible I would have been writing this story. A lot of people are upset that the article didn’t name any names.

In 1996 in Columbia, I probably would have printed the name. The argument the reporter uses, which is that the hoaxers haven’t been convicted or even charged with a crime, is valid. But in 1996, I would have felt reasonably comfortable printing the name. Our mantra was that if you ever do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper, don’t do it.

The problem today is that if you print a name, any idiot can type the name and the city into Google and get an address. And then chaos can ensue. I don’t want to plant any ideas, but I would imagine unpleasant visits and mail would be among the possibilities.

I will admit that I spent a lot of time Monday and Tuesday searching to try to determine the identity of the hoaxers. Theoretically these people live within walking distance of my friend, and I don’t want them anywhere near his daughters.

I used to have to track people down knowing next to nothing about them, sometimes not even a full name. He knew this. He didn’t come out and ask me to track them down, but he dropped a big hint. I think he would have tracked them down without my help, but I did what I could to help him.

If you want a name, you won’t find it here. People have wanted to vandalize the hoaxers’ house, long before this story broke, and the Meiers asked them not to–they would be blamed for it. The Meiers don’t need any legal trouble right now.

Also keep in mind the news story says the family has at least one security camera set up. To me, this is yet one more indication that they knew long ago they’d done something wrong. But it also means that anyone who tries any funny business now will probably make trouble for themselves.

I’ve seen a number of people questioning the authenticity of the story, and I want to address that.

One, the local papers that broke this story are owned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. While I’m often critical of the Post-Dispatch, it is a reputable paper that hires qualified, talented journalists. The St. Charles Journal isn’t the local gossip rag. While I’m not familiar with Steve Pokin, the author of this story, it’s obvious to me that he didn’t start at the paper yesterday, and in this story he followed all of the rules of good journalism, including having multiple sources. Three is considered the minimum, and he talked to more than three people. including people who didn’t want to talk.

Two, the local Fox affiliate has started covering the story and hasn’t contradicted anything that was in the original newspaper story.

Third, the story states that the anonymous hoaxers filed a police report after the Meiers dumped their destroyed foosball table on their yard. In the police report, they admit to creating a fake Myspace profile and using it to harass Megan. Filing a false police report is a crime.

While I wasn’t able to find a copy of the report online, I found Ron Meier’s court case. He’s actually due in court on Nov. 15. There weren’t a lot of details there, but the charge is property damage, the amount of money is $1,000, and the dates and the other sketchy details I found online fit the story.

And it sounds cliche, but my friend lives within walking distance. His daughter goes to Immaculate Conception, the same school Megan attended. Soon after Megan died, his daughter brought a note home stating what happened. He and I have known each other since 1989, he knew details that aren’t in the story, and he has no reason to lie about any of this.

Some people, for whatever reason, want to disbelieve it, but they don’t have a strong case.

They can point to a few holes in the story, and admittedly, there’s no way the Meiers could tell everything in the story that was printed, or in 2 minutes on TV. Did they do everything they could have or should have? By their own admission they didn’t. Did they leave out some embarrassing details? Certainly. But it’s also telling that the hoaxers didn’t want to be interviewed for the story, that they tried to discredit the police report they filed themselves, and that the police report pretty much went along with the Meiers’ story.

Finally, some people have criticized Pokin’s writing in the original story as hard to follow. I didn’t find it all that hard to follow. The story would have been a little easier to follow if he hadn’t used suspense, but fewer people would have been willing to read it if he’s written it in the traditional (and often mind-numbing) inverted pyramid format.

The problem is, it’s a complex story, and even in the traditional style, I suspect some of the people complaining would have complained.

I think some people need to learn how to read properly.

But all in all, even though some of the comments I’m seeing about this on Digg and on various blogs infuriate me, I’m glad this story is getting attention.