Nothing good starts in a Facebook group. The Ward, a reading group founded by Tennessee-based author Susan Meachen, largely went dormant after a September 2020 post — supposedly written by her daughter — was shared from her page announcing that she had died by suicide following bullying and harassment from members of the book community. Now, more than two years later, Meachen has decided that she wants her life back and returned to Facebook to reveal that she was never actually dead in the first place.
“I debated on how to do this a million times and still not sure if it’s right or not,” Meachen wrote in her back-from-the-dead return to the group on Jan. 2. “My family did what they thought was best for me and I can’t fault them for it. I almost died again at my own hand and they had to go through all that hell again. Returning to The Ward doesn’t mean much but I am in a good place now and I am hoping to write again. Let the fun begin.” (Meachen did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.)
Fun isn’t exactly the word that springs to mind for those in the book community who had befriended Meachen and were shocked by her death. “We grieved for the loss of the woman we considered a friend,” wrote Samantha A. Cole, a fellow author who regularly chatted with Meachen online, in a receipt-filled post exposing the details behind the suicide hoax. “I personally was harassed by another author who loves to create drama, claiming I was one of the authors who bullied Susan and drove her to suicide.”
Cole said that, after Meachen’s alleged death, she beat herself up over not having reached out sooner, wondering if it might have made a difference. Having lost other people in her life to suicide, it weighed heavily on her. But she got a second chance to reach out to Meachen after she commented on the author’s comeback post in The Ward asking if the entire story had been made up, only to be invited to message her privately instead.
Cole’s first question, shared in screenshots, drew from her disbelief and confusion: “What is going on????” Meachen wrote back an hour later with less urgency. “Nothing,” she responded, as if she didn’t just spend two years pretending to be dead. “I simply want my life back. My family was in a bad place and did what they thought was best for me.”
In a video follow up, Cole attempted to make sense of the situation, saying: “I’m glad that [Susan] was allegedly getting the help that she needs… [but] I do not condone what she did and I cannot forgive what she did.” Still, the damage was irreversible.
“This tore the book community apart when everyone started pointing fingers at people who allegedly bullied her. Innocent people were accused. It took months for the tension to die down,” Cole tells Rolling Stone in an email. “To have it end up being a hoax that was dragged out for almost two and a half years is a slap in the face to anyone who ever supported her. She had plenty of time to come clean, if in fact her family had made up the story, but she didn’t. Instead, she made another profile under another name, and watched as people posted tributes to her and encouraged others to buy her books in her memory and to help support her family.”
In October 2020, just over a month after Meachen’s alleged death by suicide, a post was shared on her account clarifying that she, of course, was no longer in charge of it. “Sorry thought everyone on this page knew my mom passed away,” her daughter supposedly wrote. “Dead people don’t post on social media I’ve been on this account for a week now finishing her last book, my wedding gift from her.”
Another post requested that the official Susan Meachen account not be reported to Facebook, likely to avoid its memorialization and maintain access. The account was mainly used to disperse the author’s remaining inventory through audiobook giveaways and to aid in the completion of her final novel. Her daughter sought out volunteers to edit and promote the book, as well as the past works that risked being unpublished.
The support shown by the book community was the opposite of what Meachen’s daughter contributed with driving her away in the first place. “What followed was rants from said daughter about how horrid the book world had been to Susan and the family wanted nothing to do with the book world from that point on,” Cole wrote in her post. “However, they wanted to honor their mother’s memory by publishing the last book she wrote, which they did. Friends, authors, and readers shared the release.”
By January 2021, Meachen’s daughter revealed that her page views and sales had reached zero. Within four months, she posted an announcement saying the account would be “going back to a private page for memories only.” Occasionally, fundraisers benefiting nonprofits like The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline appeared on her profile. Other than that, the page went dark.
Meanwhile, over in The Ward, Meachen’s virtual assistant Connie Ortiz maintained the role of an admin as best she could, though the group’s activity had mostly deteriorated with users citing personal circumstances that kept them offline. “I’m sorry for not being here as often as I should,” Ortiz wrote in the group this past November, referencing stress from familial obligations including reeling from her sister’s death. “I have been considering closing it down but that would not be fair to you. If anyone wants to take over this group please let me know.” (Ortiz did not return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.)
After Ortiz’s post, one member, a woman going by TN Steele, stepped up to help: “I will overhaul it in hopes that it pleases you and Susan,” she wrote. However, it’s come to light that the account may have been a burner page that Meachen created in order to maintain a presence in the book community while also remaining dead. “I will return to my real account and name,” read a recent post from the account shared in the Facebook group.
As Cole’s post exposing the hoax has spread, individuals following the story hoped to diminish any remaining chance for Meachen to restart her career, by leaving bad reviews on all of her previously published work. They also offered to leave glowing reviews for Cole’s books for sharing her story.
“There are others who were closer to her that were totally blindsided, first by her alleged suicide and then by her ‘resurrection,’ and they are hurting badly over the betrayal,” Cole tells Rolling Stone. “Suicide is not something to make a joke about or claim it happened for attention. Almost everyone knows someone who committed suicided or attempted suicide, and there are many people who have tried to kill themselves and are grateful they failed or continue to struggle to fight their demons.”
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UPDATE Jan. 4, 6:05 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify that Ortiz is not related to Susan Meachen. A comment about her sister’s death was referring to her own sister, and not the alleged death of Meachen.
Dial 988 in the US to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).