By Steve Helling
June 23, 2014 12:00 PM

From the outside, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier appeared to be angst-ridden 12-year-olds looking to fit in. With a penchant for wearing dark clothes and singing “creepy songs” that Anissa had made up, the sixth graders had few friends at Horning Middle School in Waukesha, Wis. After school they spent hours creating fantasy worlds online. “They weren’t very popular,” says classmate Terriona Hughlett. “Everyone said they were the weirdest girls in the class.”

The girls did have one friend: a well-liked, bubbly girl who adored Taylor Swift, volunteered at the Humane Society and was a trendy dresser. After a slumber party at Morgan’s home on May 30, the three girls were playing hide and seek in the woods when police say Morgan and Anissa ambushed their friend. “One suspect held the victim down while the other stabbed her 19 times,” said Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack. The girl suffered wounds to heart, liver and stomach but was able to crawl to the road and seek help from a bicyclist, saying, “Please help me. I’ve been stabbed.” Adds Chief Jack: “Incredibly, and thankfully, she survived.”

A Dark Obsession

The case left police flummoxed: Why would two preteens want to kill a friend? They couldn’t have guessed the bizarre motive: According to the criminal complaint, both girls indicated that they had carried out the attack to please “Slender Man,” a fictional faceless specter with long tendrils and a dark suit. The girls had learned about Slender Man online and became obsessed, wanting to become “proxies” of the ghoul. “Weier stated that … many people do not believe Slender Man is real,” says the police report, “and she wanted to prove the skeptics wrong.”

Who Is Slender Man?

But Slender Man isn’t real; he was conceived in 2009 during a Photoshop contest on the website Something Awful. Winner Eric Knudsen submitted two black-and-white images of children with a faceless man lurking in the background. The images captured Web surfers’ imaginations. For five years people wrote fan fiction, embellishing the character’s powers and abilities. After the stabbing, Knudsen expressed shock at the alleged failed murder plot. “I am deeply saddened by the tragedy in Wisconsin,” he said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the families of those affected by this terrible act.”

As their classmates finish the sixth grade, Morgan and Anissa sit in jail on $500,000 bond, each charged with attempted premeditated murder. If convicted, they face up to 65 years in prison. They are charged as adults, partly because of their chilling confessions. “It was weird that I didn’t feel remorse,” Morgan told police, according to the complaint. Added Anissa: “The bad part of me wanted her to die. The good part of me wanted her to live.”

First Steps to Healing

As for the victim, she is physically on the mend, but the psychological trauma may take years to overcome. Released from the hospital on June 6, she is surrounded by family. “They’re trying to establish the new normal and getting her into routines, getting her outside for fresh air and even some shoe shopping,” says family spokeswoman Dana Hoffman. An online fund has raised more than $40,000 for her. At the site of the incident, her family placed a note. “Although the sparkle has dimmed for now, it will be back again brighter than ever because of the amazing support she has worldwide.”