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Living in a Macabre Fairytale: The Story of the Slender Man Stabbing

Slender Man as he appears in the movie Slender Man (2018).

On May 31, 2014, what began as a slumber party ended in a nightmare for 12-year-old Payton Leutner. Two girls who she thought were friends, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, tried to kill her.  After Geyser stabbed Leutner, the two girls left Leutner in a wooded area. With a total of 19 stab wounds, Leutner managed to gather the strength to get herself to an area where she could be seen. Gary Steinberg chose the perfect time for a bike ride when he found Leutner covered in blood near a wooded area and called 911.

At the hospital, it was found that Leutner had wounds puncturing her heart and stomach. One wound was perilously close to her heart. If it had been a fraction of an inch closer, Leutner would have died.

A 2021 article on All That’s Interesting, “The Slender Man Stabbing: How An Internet Meme Led Two 12-Year-Old Girls To Attempt Murder,” quotes Dr. John Ketelman, “If the knife had gone the width of a human hair further, she wouldn’t have lived.” When Leutner emerged after six hours of surgery, her attackers were caught.

The Attack

The three girls planned a sleepover for Geyser’s 12th birthday. The night before, Geyser’s parents, Angie and Matt, took the girls to a local roller rink called Skateland. The next morning, the girls headed over to David’s Park, a local park in the girls’ hometown of Waukesha, WI, a suburb of Milwaukee.

Once there, they went into the bathroom. Geyser unsuccessfully tried attacking Leutner there. Geyser had a knife stolen from home tucked into the waistband of her pants. It was just a regular knife for cutting vegetables. 

At the park, the girls went to the restroom where Geyser made an unsuccessful attempt to attack Leutner. Weier then suggested playing hide and seek in a wooded area of the park. Surprisingly, Leutner consented but the thought of what would happen next probably never entered her mind.

Once in the woods, ATI quotes Leutner: “Anissa told me to lie on the ground and cover myself in sticks and leaves and stuff to hide. But it was really just a trick to get me down there.” Weier told Geyser, “Go ballistic, go crazy.” Geyser then jumped on Leutner and began to stab her. Once Geyser got up off her friend, Leutner yelled, “I hate you! I trusted you!”

Weier and Geyser told Leutner to lie there in the grass while they went for help. ATI quotes Weier describing Leutner’s condition, “She said that she couldn’t see, she couldn’t walk, and that she couldn’t breathe.”

At the time of the attack, Leutner, AKA Bella, had been friends with Geyser for two years. The two met in the school cafeteria.  ATI quotes Leutner recalling, “She was sitting all by herself and I didn’t think anyone should have to sit by themselves.” Both Geyser and Leutner are described as being “inseparable.” During sixth grade at Horning Middle School, the duo became a trio when Geyser made a new friend in Anissa Weier.

Weier and Geyser were neighbors at the Sunset Apartments. In a 2015 New York Magazine article, “If These Girls Knew That Slender Man Was a Fantasy, Why Did They Want to Kill Their Friend for Him?,” writer Lisa Miller describes Waukesha as “a politically conservative and fairly bleak place, despite its spot on a few ‘best places to live’ lists.”

Miller describes Sunset as being located on the “wrong side” of Waukesha’s Sunset Drive. 

Miller also reports that the trio wasn’t popular. Both Geyser and Weier were outsiders while Leutner is described as the most sociable of the three. All sources agree that the girls loved fantasy and sci-fi.

According to New York Magazine, Geyser’s teachers described her as “odd.” Jill ­Weidenbaum, one of Geyser’s teachers, described her behavior as “attention-seeking.” Weidenbaum said that Geyser would bark like a dog and catch insects and throw them at other students. Geyser had also been suspended for bringing a hammer to school. On the flip side, Geyser has an above-average IQ, received decent grades, and is described as creative and artistic. Geyser was a fan of both Harry Potter and Star Trek, her favorite characters were Voldemort and Mr. Spock, and she reportedly believed that she could talk to Voldemort and referred to him as “Voldy.”

A closeup of girl ina dark room with the light of either a TV or computer screen on her face.
Actress Joey King in a scene from the movie Slender Man (2018).

Geyser’s father, Matt, reportedly received treatment for mental illness. When Matt was a teenager, he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized. At the time of Geyser’s arrest, her mother, Angie, had recently been laid off from her job at a local hospital.

Weier’s parents, Kristi and William, were divorced at the time she met Geyser. Kristi worked nights but would pick Weier up after school and wait with her until William picked her up after work. New York Magazine reports that an acquaintance of Weier described her as “thin-skinned.” Weier told police, “I stand up for her every now and then because Morgan’s, like, a prime target for bullies at school […] One time [a boy] got too close to Morgan, and I kind of didn’t like it, so I punched him kinda hard. He kind of started crying.”

Weier also felt it necessary to give police a heads up about Geyser, she told them, “She can be a little dopey and forget what she’s saying, in the middle of a sentence, a lot […] Because, like, she says she hears voices, too.”

Leutner admits that she didn’t care much for Weier. ATI quotes Leutner as saying, “I didn’t like [Weier] at all […] I just hung out with her because I knew that Morgan really loved her as a friend. But she was always cruel to me. I feel like she was jealous that Morgan was friends with me and her.” 

Leutner marched to her own drummer also. She and Geyser shared a love of cats which Leutner expressed by often going to school dressed as a cat. She must’ve been well-liked by classmates. New York Magazine reports that, after the attack, students at Horning Middle School wanted to paint their faces like cats to show support for Leutner.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with fantasy, having an imagination, or being creative. It’s certainly not encouraged enough. The problem, as we’ll see, is that rare person who can’t separate fantasy from reality.

About a year before the attack, Geyser and Weier added a new character to their pantheon of favorites. The two became fascinated by Slender Man, a character they had come across on the internet. Leutner wasn’t the least interested in Slender Man. ATI quotes Leutner recalling, “I told [Geyser] that it scared me and that I didn’t like it […] But she really liked it and thought it was real.”

A closeup of a person with no face.
Slender Man as he appears in the movie Slender Man (2018).

Slender Man

Slender Man is a contemporary urban legend who was born from an entry in a 2009 Photoshop contest. A site called Something Awful, described as a humor site, challenged users to take an everyday photo and make it scary. Eric Knudsen, AKA Victor Surge, created a tall, very thin faceless figure dressed in a dark business suit behind a group of teenagers with the caption: ‘We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them…’ -1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.”

The figure caught the attention of other users who dubbed the character Slender Man. A 2016 Rolling Stone, “Slender Man: From Horror Meme to Inspiration for Murder,” quotes Knudsen describing his inspiration: “H.P Lovecraft, Stephen King (specifically his short stories), the surreal imaginings of William S. Burroughs, and couple games of the survival horror genre; Silent Hill and Resident Evil.”

Knudsen created two Slender Man photos. The second, bearing a fake library seal was of a group of children smiling at the camera with Slender Man in the background. The caption read: “One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as ‘The Slender Man.’ … Fire at the library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.”

The first photos were posted on June 8, 2009. Three days later, Rolling Stone reports that a “fictional doctor’s note” was posted that included explicit and graphic accounts of several Slender Man victims dating back to the 1990s. Ten days after Knudsen’s entries were posted, a series of  Slender Man videos appeared on YouTube posted by a channel called Marble Hornets. Rolling Stone reports that the videos were shot in the style of The Blair Witch Project and we’re a collaborative effort by three college students: Troy Wagner, Joseph DeLange, and Tim Sutton. 

Slender Man went viral with more videos popping up on YouTube. Eventually, he earned his own page on the paranormal and horror website Creepypasta in 2011 and was featured in some video games.

As Slender Man’s popularity grew, a story also grew up around him. Slender Man has tentacle-like appendages that project from his back. He abducts children and stalks people, killing them in grotesque ways, eviscerating them, and keeping their internal organs in bags. If someone kills for Slender Man, they become “proxies,” whose families will be safe from Slender Man. Not only that, proxies get to live with Slender Man in a castle in the middle of a forest.

According to ATI, Geyser and Weier had the idea to become Slender Man proxies in December 2013. Geyser allegedly proposed the idea and Weier went along with it. According to Slender Man lore, to become a part of Slender Man’s proxy, a person needs to kill someone. If they don’t, Slender Man will kill their family. The two chose Leutner as their sacrifice. ATI quotes Weier recalling her thoughts at the time: “I was excited because I wanted proof that he existed because there were a bunch of skeptics out there saying he didn’t exist.”

Two girls stand outside at night huddled together over a phone as the light from the screen lights up their faces.
Actresses Joey King (l.) and Juliana Goldani Telles in a scene from Slender Man (2018).

The Plan

Geyser admitted to police that they talked about their plan for months and even established a code to talk about it in public. Geyser recalled: “Like for knife, we used ‘cracker […] For the killing, we would use words like ‘itch […] You have no idea how difficult it was not to tell anyone. It was a flawless plan, actually.”

According to all sources, the girls settled on Geyser’s 12th birthday as the time to kill Leutner. Before the sleepover that night, Geyser and Weier each packed a bag in preparation for their journey to Slender Man’s castle which included bottled water, granola bars, and clothes. Weier included a picture of her family so that she could remember them after she was living in Slender Man’s castle.

Geyser told investigators that she and Weier attempted to kill Leutner so that Slender Man wouldn’t kill her family. ATI quotes Geyser: “It was weird. I felt no remorse. I thought I would. I actually felt nothing.”

Investigators found notebooks in Geyser’s bedroom and school locker which contained drawings of Slender Man with phrases “I want to die,” and, “Help me escape my mind.” They searched her computer and found

‘How to get away with murder,’ and  ‘what kind of insane am [I]?’ under her internet searches.

The girls were charged with attempted first-degree murder and spent the following 14 months at a juvenile detention center. 

The two were kept separated. Geyser spent four months at Winnebago Mental Health Institute for psychological evaluation. Like her father many years before, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. However, more than one source points out that Geyser’s diagnosis was rare for her age.

Dr. Kenneth Casimir testified that Geyser has a “long history of auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations.”  New York Magazine reports that Geyser has had “vivid dreams which she wished she could change” since she was 3-years-old. She began to see “images pop up on the wall in different colors” by third grade. Geyser also said that she felt ghosts hugging her. 

In addition to schizophrenia, Geyser was also diagnosed with “oppositional defiant disorder,” which is characterized by antisocial behavior and unwillingness to adhere to rules. What is most disturbing is when Geyser told him, “If [Slender Man] told me to break into someone’s house and stab them, I would have to do it.”

During her incarceration, staff at the detention center reported that they saw Geyser talking to people that weren’t there. She also kneeled on the floor with her back to the door to eat her meals.

A closeup of a girl's face covered in spiders as she opens her mouth to scream.
A scene from Slender Man (2018).

The Psychology Behind It All

Geyser was diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia. A 2020 Medical News Today article, “What is childhood schizophrenia?” confirms Geyser’s diagnosis is very rare for her age. The symptoms of schizophrenia in children are similar to adults diagnosed with schizophrenia: “psychosis, delusions, auditory hallucinations (i.e. hearing voices), developmental delays, language difficulties, difficulty coping with school work and social relationships, trouble expressing or recognizing emotions, known as “flat affect.”

Medical News Today cites the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) as pointing out that a child with early-onset schizophrenia who may have been sociable during early childhood will exhibit a personality change. The ASCAP lists the following symptoms: 

  • unusual behavior or speech
  • unusual or bizarre thoughts and ideas
  • confuses television and dreams with reality
  • seems confused in their thinking
  • experiences severe mood changes
  • shows changes in their personality 
  • believes that someone is after them or talking about them (paranoia)
  • appears anxious and fearful
  • has difficulty relating to peers and maintaining friendships
  • becomes withdrawn and increasingly isolated
  • neglects their personal grooming.

From descriptions of Geyser provided by her teacher and especially Weier, these symptoms do match up to Geyser’s behavior.

Weier was described as a model inmate. According to New York Magazine, she was an excellent student and took on a “big sister” role with other inmates. She also reportedly wanted nothing more to do with Geyser. Weier was put on suicide watch once and had a breakdown after a group of girls ganged up on her calling her a “f**king b**ch” and a “monster.” “That’s what I am, exactly what they had called me,” Weier said.

Weier was diagnosed with shared psychotic disorder. According to the American Psychological Association website, shared psychotic disorder is defined as “[…] a disorder in which the essential feature is an identical or similar delusion that develops in an individual who is involved with another individual (sometimes called the ‘inducer’ or the ‘primary case’) who already has a psychotic disorder with prominent delusions. Shared psychotic disorder can involve many people (e.g., an entire family) but is most commonly seen in relationships of only two, in which case it is known as folie à deux. In DSM–5, the disorder is not recognized or included as a distinct diagnostic entity separate from delusional disorder. Formerly called induced psychotic disorder.”

According to this definition, Geyser’s schizophrenia would be the catalyst for the attempted murder. Although Weier is described as being a bit more together, according to her description as a model inmate, her fantasy life was just as rich as Geyser. The description of her home life gives a picture of an environment that would make escapism very attractive. Weier’s state of mind was vulnerable to Geyser’s delusions. Weier even admitted that she wanted to prove that Slender Man was real. Sometimes, no matter how twisted a delusion may seem to one person, it may give the believer a false sense of security. From what I’ve read about both Geyser and Weier, both sounded as if they wanted to escape the real world. Belief in Slender Man, no matter how strange to others, provided that for them.

A girl looks up at a humanoid figure who puts a hand with abnormally long slender fingers to the side of her face.
Slender Man and victim (Joey King) in a scene from the movie Slender Man (2018).

Trial & Aftermath

Both Geyser and Weier stood trial in 2017. Geyser pleaded guilty. Both were tried as adults. Geyser was deemed fit to stand trial since she no longer exhibited severe psychotic symptoms. However, she was still hearing voices. Her doctors testified on her behalf and the jury determined that she was not criminally responsible for her actions. She was sentenced to 40 years in a mental institution. At the end of the trial, Geyser sobbed as she said, “I just want to let Bella [Leutner] and her family know. I’m sorry…I never meant this to happen.”

Weier pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The jury also found Weier wasn’t responsible for her actions due to shared psychotic disorder. She was sentenced to 25 years in a mental health institution. 

In response to this horrific and tragic event, Creepypasta issued a statement confirming that Slender Man is not real and organized a fundraiser for Payton Leutner.

After her terrifying experience, Leutner wants to pursue a career in the medical field. ATI quotes Leutner, five years after the near-fatal attack. “Parents need to talk to their kids directly, saying, ‘This is not real. This is fake.” 

Leutner was also asked what she would say to Geyser: Leutner said, “I would probably, initially thank her. I would say, ‘Just because of what she did, I have the life I have now. I really, really like it and I have a plan. I didn’t have a plan when I was 12, and now I do because of everything that I went through.”

ATI reports that Geyser’s mother said, “Morgan lives in reality now.”

In a shocking turn of events, Weier was deemed fit to be released in September 2021. 

According to a 2021 Oxygen.com article, “Teen Convicted In ‘Slender Man’ Stabbing Set To Be Released From Mental Health Institute,” Weier was released from Winnebago Mental Health Institute on September 14, 2021.  Weier petitioned the court earlier in the year stating that she was “deeply regretful” but that she felt that there were no more resources available at Winnebago for her—that she “exhausted” them all. 

In July of 2021, the court deemed Weier fit to release since they determined that there was no evidence that she would pose a threat to society.

Oxygen quotes Weier’s letter: “I am NOT saying I am done with my treatment […] I am saying that I have exhausted all the resources available to me at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute. If I am to become a productive member of society, I need to be a part of society.”

A humanoid being grabs a girl and puts his hand over her face.
Slender Man attack in a scene from Slender Man (2018).

Weier was released to her father’s custody under the following conditions: she must live at her father’s house (with her brother and father’s girlfriend), is not allowed internet access, cannot spend the night anywhere other than her father’s house, and participate in 20 hours of structured, social, or vocational activities each week. Weier is thinking of continuing her education and wants to work with at-risk teens.

Oxygen quotes Weier: “Aside from being committed to being healthy, I am also committed to using this negative situation and publicity for something good […] I want to use my experience losing myself in a mental illness as a way to make others who are dealing with mental struggles see they are not alone, this is not the end of who you are, this does not define you, and give a reality check to people who are asking for help.” Hopefully, the jury made the right decision.

About one week after the near-fatal attack on Payton Leutner, a 13-year-old girl in Ohio, who was reportedly also obsessed with Slender Man, tried to stab her mother. In many of the cases that I research, all signs point to mental illness ignored and untreated. According to the psychiatrist who examined Morgan Geyser, she had been having hallucinations since early childhood. In the case of the Slender Man stabbing, the root cause becomes obvious—and it certainly isn’t the Internet. At the core of each story was a child with severe mental illness. A young girl isn’t going to wake up one day and decide to stab someone because of a story that she read online. If that were true, there would be many more stories like this. 

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Written by MD Bastek

I'm just a being who writes about unusual things.

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