A chalk drawing of Slender Man. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
On Saturday morning, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser—two 12-year-old girls—lured a classmate into the woods near their homes in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and stabbed her 19 times. Or, as Geyser reportedly described it, “stabby stab stab.” The kitchen knife penetrated the victim’s liver, pancreas, and stomach, but somehow she survived the attack. Crawling out of the woods to the pavement, she was found by a passerby, soaked in blood and fighting for her life. She is now recovering in the hospital.
The case has made headlines around the world, in part because the details are so frighteningly surreal. Geyser is said to have shown no remorse when interviewed by detectives, describing the child she butchered as "gullible" and her crime as "probably wrong." Her lawyer told ABC that she may have unspecified "mental health issues," which seems to be more of a convenient legal assumption at this stage than a medical diagnosis.
The most bizarre aspect of the case by far, though, is the involvement of Slender Man, an internet phenomenon that's sent journalists around the world scrambling for their Google machines with predictably miserable results. The girls told detectives that they were sacrificing their victim to Slender Man in order to become his "proxies," with Geyser convincing her friend that the only way to achieve this would be by killing children, then walking to a nearby mansion where they believe he lived. According to the Chicago Tribune,“Geyser said Slender Man would watch her and could read her mind. He can teleport, emits radiation that makes you sick, and doesn't use computers because they don't work when he's around.”
Slender Man has generally been described by news reports as a "meme" and has naturally been held responsible for "inspiring" the incident (though one enterprising news outlet blamed iPads). The term "meme," however, doesn’t really do justice to the complexity of the online sensation that the girls had apparently become obsessed with.
Slender Man appeared on the forums of Something Awful in 2009 as part of a spooky Photoshop competition, a freakishly tall, dark-suited figure lurking in the shadowy backgrounds of photos taken near murder scenes—black tentacles writhing behind his back and a blank featureless face. The character was so compelling—the perfect blend of horror and mystery—that he inspired the creation of an entire mythological universe, with hundreds of other people producing further photos, videos featuring "found footage" and sophisticated stories, and "news" reports building up a complex in-world history.
Slender Man appearing in the background of a vintage photograph. Photo via
Over time, the Slenderverse became something more than a meme, transforming into what the Slender Man Wiki describes as an "Alternate Reality Game." Where most games, movies, or novels take the reader into another world, ARGs blend fantasy into reality, building up a universe that’s just a step to the left of the participants’ own, influenced by their actions. YouTube channels and blogs provide the main entry points for these experiences, which can also involve email, live streams, and social media like Twitter.
Most importantly, Slender Man AR gamers treat the mythology as real in all community interaction. Most pose complete ignorance to the pop-culture or internet awareness of Slender Man, not even aware that such a being is so widely researched. As such, many ARG characters refer to Slender Man as simply "That Man" or "That Thing." Few ARGs reveal having previous knowledge of Slender Man. Those who do are usually aware because of pop-culture references and will refer to him as Slender Man accordingly.
The idea of "proxies" apparently came from the DarkHarvest00 ARG, a series featuring a character called Kind Von Der Ritter, who apparently worships the Slender Man and wants to become a proxy himself. According to the Slender Man Wiki, “The theory behind the name is that Proxies are entities or people who are under the influence or control of Slender Man (or the same force that influences Slender Man), and act based on its wants/needs. Hence, Proxies serve as an in-between—a proxy—for Slender Man. It is suspected that Proxies do the actual, physical work for Slender Man, such as creating and manipulating objects, destroying and leaving evidence, creating videos and responding on Twitter, and influencing victims as needed.”
ARGs are a new beast—complex multimedia experiences very different to a simple meme or the ghost stories we used to tell each other before the internet and the fact-checking, myth-busting brigade came along. With this in mind, it’s tempting to draw the obvious conclusion: Two vulnerable young children went onto the internet, got involved in something their under-developed brains couldn’t process, and tried to kill another child as a result of this corrupting influence.
A bunch of photos in which Slender Man has appeared in the background
Naturally, parents and schools have responded aggressively. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel heavily criticizes the local school and highlights their provision of iPads to students: “While school officials supplied iPads at the beginning of the year and promised to monitor them periodically, they never did.” The devices have apparently since been confiscated. The Journal Sentinel goes on to point out that "psychologists say parental monitoring of electronic devices is essential to the safety of children. Parents need to know what their kids are viewing and discuss it with them.”
Fox6Now.com reports that numerous schools have banned the CreepyPasta website and a number of others, but quotes school district superintendent Todd Gray pointing out that there’s actually nothing about the sites that would have raised any red flags prior to the attempted murder. Gray adds, "We can write all the policy we want, but the fact of the matter is we have no control over students when they’re out, off school grounds.”
The problem with all of this is it misses the big picture. The most popular Slendervlogs have viewer counts well into six figures, many of them likely to be old children or young adults, and we don’t see hundreds of kids taking to the woods with kitchen knives… or at least not outside of the fevered imaginations of Daily Mail hacks. Whatever happened to these two children to make them into killers was almost entirely unique to their particular circumstances.
Nothing on these sites told them to kill a child; they decided that for themselves, and the truth is we have absolutely no idea why. We may never know, and that’s maybe the most surreal and difficult mystery in all of this.
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