WAUKESHA, WI — On May 31, 2014, a 12-year-old girl, stabbed 19 times, crawled out of the woods, where she had been left to die. She had just become the victim of the myth and meme of Slender Man, a creepy Internet child killer.
Anissa Weier, Morgan Geyser, and Payton Leutner knew almost everything about Slender Man. Leutner was particularly terrified of the faceless creature, which first appeared as a Photoshopped image on a website in 2009 and took on a life of its own when people began inventing stories about him.
“We opened up the computer one night and sat and looked at the site together, and I said, ‘Payton, let’s just read one of these and you tell me, does this sound like this could possibly be real?’” Leutner’s mom, Stacie, later said of her daughter’s fear. “And she said, ‘No, but Morgan — Morgan knows he’s real.’”
Little did the Leutners realize at the time just how much Geyser actually believed in the black-suited creature with spidery arms. In fact, Geyser and Weier had decided they needed to do something drastic to appease and impress Slender Man to prevent the demon-like figure from wrecking havoc on them and their families.
So over months, the two sixth graders hatched a plan to kill Leutner. They finally found the perfect opportunity: a slumber party to celebrate Geyser turning 12, the same age as her friends. Thinking they would become servants of Slender Man after Leutner’s murder, Weier and Geyser hoped to escape to the Internet monster’s mansion, which they were certain was located hundreds of miles north, in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
When the day of the sleepover finally arrived, Leutner’s mom said her child packed her American Girl doll and was “squealing with joy.” The three girls spent the night at a rollerskating rink before heading back to Geyser’s house. The next morning, “Anissa and I took [Leutner] in the forest and said that we were going to play hide-and-seek,” Geyser later revealed. “Anissa said that she couldn’t do it and that I had to.”
Weier told police Geyser refused to attack their victim until she gave the signal. “Go ballistic, go crazy,” Weier commanded her friend, who tackled Leutner to the ground, sat on top of her and began stabbing, at one point handing the knife to Weier, who then also slashed at the victim. After they were done, Weier told Leutner to stay where she was and they would go get help — a promise police said the murderous girls never planned to fulfill.
Despite Leutner’s extensive injuries — one plunge of the knife came within less than a millimeter from a major artery in her heart — she managed to crawl from the woods and flag down passing cyclist Greg Steinberg. “I was just on the verge of asking her if she was okay,” he said. “I mean, a 12-year-old girl — she could have been out, laying in the sun, I really wasn’t quite sure, I was just going to ask her, and she looked up and said, ‘Can you help me? I’ve been stabbed multiple times.”
Medics rushed Leutner to Waukesha Memorial Hospital. “She was pale as a ghost,” her mom recalled. “She was terrified, she was crying, she couldn’t breathe.” Following six hours of surgery, Leutner’s first words, her mother said, were, “I want to go home” and “Did they get them?”
Leutner’s dad, Joe, assured his daughter that Weier and Geyser were in custody after police had tracked them down walking near the freeway. “This is my little girl who’s lying there, who just said something incredibly horrendous happened, and now she’s scared for her life, because these two people could potentially find her again,” he said.
News of the attack shocked and confused the nation. “This sounds crazy, because it is,” Weier’s attorney, Maura McMahon, explained at trial of her client, who experts testified suffered, along with Geyser, from shared delusional disorder. “This was a real being to this child, and she needed to protect those around her. At 12 years old, she had no way to protect herself from [Slender Man] except for Morgan’s advice, and they swirled down into madness together.”
Though Leutner returned to school and thrived in some areas of her life, she had a tough time recovering from her ordeal — both physically and mentally. She eventually underwent six surgeries to treat the 19 stab wounds to her body, which left her with extensive scarring. And her entire demeanor changed.
“She was more reserved and more cautious. She held everyone at arm’s length and never let anyone get too close,” noted her mom in a victim-impact statement. “She immersed herself in school in an attempt to distract herself from the uncertainty of her life; everything she knew about her home and her family was different.”
Geyser and Weier’s worlds have also been dramatically altered in the years after they enacted their plan to appease Slender Man. The girls claimed in court they were mentally ill, and the two were eventually found incompetent to stand trial. Geyser’s defense attorneys later said her client suffered schizophrenia and psychotic spectrum disorder, which caused her to struggle with bouts of delusions and paranoid beliefs.
In December 2017, Weier, who pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree intentional homicide, was ordered to spend as much as 25 years in a mental-health facility. Geyser admitted guilt to attempted first-degree intentional homicide. Last February, Judge Michael Bohren sentenced her to be hospitalized for up to 40 years. “What we can’t forget is this was an attempted murder,” the judge noted of the now-16-year-old girl he called a “fragile person.”
Geyser expresses regret for her actions. “I just want to let Bella,” her nickname for Leutner, “and her family know that I’m sorry, and I hope she’s doing well.”
“I want everybody involved to know I deeply regret everything that happened that day,” Weier echoed when given the chance in court. “I know that nothing I say is going to make this right, and nothing I say is going to fix what I broke.”
Still, Leutner’s father, Joe, believes something can be salvaged from the tragedy his daughter somehow survived. “[Payton is] meant to do something special,” he said. “She’s here for a reason… to show the world to treat other people better, for parents who maybe see — dig a little deeper about what their children are doing, maybe she herself is supposed to be an inspiration.”