In Waukesha, Wisconsin this week, two 12-year-old girls tried to murder another 12-year-old girl. Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier were charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide for allegedly stabbing their young classmate 19 times. They each face up to 65 years in prison. Though news media typically do not name juvenile criminal defendants, numerous outlets have in this case, because of the severity of the charges and because the girls were charged as adults. Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel said that bail was set for $500,000 for each defendant.
According to police, Geyser and Weier planned the crime for months in advance. They invited the victim to a sleepover at Geyser’s home on Friday, originally plotting to cover the victim’s mouth with duct tape and then stab her in the neck, before running away. Instead, they decided that they would lure the victim to a nearby park the next day. Weier told police that she knew that the park bathroom had a drain in the floor where the blood could go down.
Geyser and Weier told their victim that they were going to the park to go bird-watching and play hide-and-seek. “People that trust you are very gullible,” Geyser reportedly told a detective. They passed by a public bathroom and some trees, and then, “Stabby, stab, stab,” Geyser said.
A bicyclist discovered the victim after she crawled to a sidewalk outside the woods. The victim, who was originally in critical condition, has now stabilized, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Geyser later apologized when talking with police, then added, “It was weird that I didn’t feel remorse.” When they asked her what she was trying to do when stabbing her friend she said, “I may as well just say it: Kill her.” When police asked Weir if she understood what it meant to kill someone, she replied, “I believe it’s ending a life and I regret it.”
What motivated this horrific chain of events? The answer can be found on the internet…
The two young suspects were apparently fascinated with horror stories, such as those found on the website Creepypasta Wiki. The popular internet-born legend of “Slenderman” particularly captivated them. The girls told police that they intended to kill their friend in order to prove their devotion to “Slender.” They planned to hike into the northern Wisconsin Nicolet National Forest after the murder, believing that Slenderman lived in a mansion there. The girls described the character in vivid detail, giving no indication that they acknowledged that he is, well, a fictional character.
A spokesman for the creator of Slenderman, Eric Knudsen, and the administrator of the Creepypasta Wiki site, David Morales, have both stated that they are saddened by the tragedy but resist any suggestions that they share blame for the girls’ violence. Morales notes that his site is not intended for readers under the age of 13.
Geyser’s attorney, Anthony Cotton, told reporters that his client needed a mental health evaluation as soon as possible. “I’m basing that on my years of experience interacting with thousands of clients,” he said. “I believe she has those needs.” Wisconsin was the first state to allow juveniles to plead not guilty because of mental disease or defect, so that option would remain open even if the girls’ attorneys succeeded in moving their cases to the juvenile system. Wisconsin law governing insanity defenses (Wisconsin 971.15) follows the Model Penal Code test: “A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect the person lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct or conform his or her conduct to the requirements of law.” “Mental disease or defect” cannot include “an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.” Cotton also indicated that he might also raise the issue of Geyser’s competency to stand trial.
Anissa Weier’s brother spoke to the Daily Mail about his sister. Michael Weir is a make-up artist for the circus troupe “Dead Man’s Carnival.” He insists that he saw no red flags of mental illness or violence, though he was well aware of his little sister’s obsession with horror stories and Slenderman in particular.
Matt Geyser, Morgan’s father, had posted a sketch of Slenderman on Instagram long before this past weekend’s events. Apparently, Morgan had drawn the stick figure on a napkin. Beneath the picture, her father wrote, “Only Mogo (Morgan) draws Slenderman in crayon on a napkin when we are out to dinner.” He tagged Morgan’s mother Angela in the post and four of his friends “liked” it. So, her dad was aware of and comfortable with the girl’s interest in the Slenderman stories.
The Daily Mail then reported that Morgan Geyser’s parents appeared to be themselves fascinated with the macabre. The Mail collected a variety of photos from her parents’ Instagram accounts — skulls, gothic imagery, and references to metal bands like Shadows Fall. Email addresses linked to the girl’s father’s name and address on public records include the words “ILOVEEVIL” or variously “ILOVEEVIL666.” Most of the pictures suggest a loving family, albeit one with parents whose aesthetics run more toward Hot Topic than Brooks Brothers.
With only the information now publicly available, blaming the families of Geyser and Weier would be premature and unkind. This tragedy touches their families as it does the victim’s. While most neighbors have not spoken to the press, those that have have been supportive of the families and vouched for their apparent good character.
However, there is an unmistakable sense that these girls were steeped in stuff that they could not handle. While grown-ups are able to sift through what is real and what is not, what is action-guiding and what is colorful theatrics, children are not always able to do so. Their abilities don’t mature in a completely linear fashion either: a child rational in one area may have fuzzy thinking in others. It’s hard to know what a kid is prepared to handle. This is true even without the mental illness distorting the picture further, as it almost certainly did in this case.
Compared to adults, children absorb more and process less. The internet provides more matter to absorb. The impracticability of parents monitoring their children’s every click is not the only problem. A problem too is that even parents themselves can easily lose sight of what is actually okay for their children to consume and what isn’t.
Tamara Tabo is a summa cum laude graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the school’s law review. After graduation, she clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. She will be working at the Center for Legal Pedagogy at Texas Southern University during the 2013-2014 academic year. She looks forward to a career of teaching and writing about, but never practicing, law. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org