Editor's note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of minors.
Waukesha is boring—the sort of place with few crimes beyond theft. A few weeks after the stabbing, 9-1-1 dispatchers reportedly received a call stating that someone had broken into a garage and substituted a blue-and-yellow bike for a silver one. It was almost an improvement. The idea that young, local girls could commit violence against one another is mindboggling to Waukesha residents.
Inadvertently macabre billboards line the highways leading to the crime scene. “INJURIES. THEY CAN SURPRISE YOU,” one says. At another intersection, a restaurant marquee declares: “THE BONEYARD! WHERE CHILDREN EAT FOR FREE!“
Instead of talking about the crime, locals sell candles out of their backyards and cut hearts out of construction paper for a shrine built on the side of the road where Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier’s victim dragged her body to safety. The bathroom where Geyser and Weier first considered stabbing their friend reeked of weed when I visited Wisconsin a few weeks ago. According to NBC News, the girls planned to execute her in the David’s Park public restroom because it had a drain in the floor that would be good for the blood to pour into. Instead, with a game of hide-and-seek, the girls allegedly coaxed their friend to the woods, where they stabbed her 19 times with a five-inch blade.
Twelve-year-old girls say “I hate you” constantly, but in this particular case, the utterance seems justified.
In Wisconsin, local culture centers on tight-lipped niceties masked by large smiles. Reactions to tragedy usually shilly-shally between vague Christian impulses, like charity and silence in the face of gossip. Neighbors will leave a cheesy casserole on the sufferer’s stoop, then duck home—saying zilch about the offering or what prompted it, not even to the victim.
But in contrast to their parents, teenage girls in Wisconsin want to talk about the case. They have a lot to say about girl-on-girl violence, for starters, and are patently unsurprised by the fact that Geyser and Weier concocted their stabbing plan while still in middle school. According to teenage girls, feeling inclined to stab someone is common at their age.
“Middle school sucks,” Bethany, a 16-year-old from Waukesha, said, munching Oreos. “It’s a terrible time, and it would drive anybody crazy.”
“Girls are just mean when they’re in middle school,” Eliza, a 15-year-old from the same county, told me over the phone. “Middle school is where it really starts. I think it depends on how mentally strong you are, and how much you can take. But yeah. It can make you insane, I think.”
A 17-year-old from Waukesha named Jenny said that grown-ups in the area want to see Weier and Geyser punished more than teenagers do. “The victim’s family is getting all of this support—there’s a whole shrine set up for [the victim] in the cul-de-sac, even though she isn’t dead.”
“But as far as the stabbers,” Jenny continued, “there’s a lot of hatred toward them. A lot of disgust.” She was then quiet for a long time.
“I had a really rough time in middle school,” she said finally. “It’s when you’re learning about all the stuff that’s gonna happen to your body. And you’re like, ‘Shit. I dunno.’ And then everyone keeps it to themselves because they don’t want anyone to know that they’re going through puberty—like, gross—so they keep it inside, which is unhealthy and enough to drive anyone crazy.”
“It’s boring and scary to talk about at school because kids just react how their parents react, saying how fucked it is that small children are capable of murdering their own friends, and if you say the wrong thing, you’re like a monster, probably,” said Caroline, a 16-year-old whose high school “plays Waukesha" in sports. “People want to pretend it’s evil so that they look good, and also because they want to think something like this would never happen to them. They react how they think they should react because they’re afraid to say it’s just childhood boredom gone wrong.”
It had been a while since I had reflected on the nightmare of middle school. But speaking to teenage girls in Wisconsin over Skype, or on the phone, or sprawled out on some living room rug, I was viscerally reminded of its horrors. Unless you’re lucky enough to get your period in high school, which carries its own outsidery trauma, puberty and middle school are inextricably entwined. Hunched over from weird new cramps, 11-to-13-year-old girls love to hurt one another, simply by sowing what they’d be afraid to reap. It’s not empathy, exactly, so much as projection. Teens’ capacity for full-blown embarrassment allows girls to torture one another in excruciatingly resonant and gender-specific ways. Of course, stabbing is gender-neutral, and calling 19 stab wounds “bullying” would be an understatement, but the teenage girls I spoke to believed the incident belonged to the same spectrum as “mean girl” behavior.
Every one of the teenage girls I spoke to asked me not to use her name for the piece, lest girls at school “go crazy” and “get all vengeful.”
“Girls are bitches,” Caroline said softly. “At my school they flush peoples’ pants down the toilets, and during gym class they replace the heavy girls' clothes with smaller clothes.”
“This one girl at my school, her friends decided they didn’t like her, so they took her Uggs and poured lotion in them and destroyed her locker,” Caroline’s friend MacKenzie countered. “She had to leave the school. She came back a few years later, and her mom started an anti-bullying club. But her mom ended up being the biggest bully of them all, writing things about the other girls in newsletters. Now they’re in Florida.”
When I asked if they’d ever seen girls get violent, most of the girls I interviewed laughed like I was the stupidest person in the world.
“Didn’t you go to high school?” Eliza asked.
“In fourth grade, people were talking about this one girl behind her back,” Caroline told me. “At first she was really sad and just cried about it, but then she brought a bat to school and said she was going to kill everyone with it. She doesn’t go to our school anymore, but I don’t think she was crazy. Just sad.”
“Also the puberty stuff we mentioned,” MacKenzie reminded me.
“Yeah,” Caroline said. “Fourth grade was the beginning of that for the more developed girls.”
“At the beach one time these girls were punching each other,” another sophomore girl named Letesha admitted to me over the phone. “The hitting sounded softer than I thought it would, but they were bleeding.”
In a recent phone call, Geyser’s lawyer, Anthony Cotton, echoed the idea that 12 is a weird age. “11-to-12-year-olds lack empathy,” he said. “They lack judgment.”
Jenny, for her part, agreed. “At that age it’s difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and be empathetic. I don’t remember what part of the brain... but it’s not fully developed yet until you’re, like, 20-something, so on one hand it’s like, what if [Weier and Geyser] grow into bigger monsters? On the other hand, it could just be a phase.”
When I asked whether the stabbings had come up in conversation with any of their peers, Jenny and the other teenage girls I interviewed all gave the same sort of negative response. People their age were afraid to say the wrong thing, they explained, and although they wanted to talk about it and were happy to talk to me—girls their age could be so mean about the weirdest things.
“It really only comes up during ghost stories,” MacKenzie said. “Like, we’ll be telling scary stories and someone will say, ‘Wanna hear a true one?’”
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