In early June, two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wis., were charged with attempted murder in the attack on a third girl, a classmate whom they had invited for a sleepover. Prosecutors say the girls lured their victim into playing a game of hide-and-seek in the woods. When in the woods, the prosecutors say, they attacked her with a knife, stabbing her 19 times. The victim was discovered by a bicyclist and rushed to the hospital; she is said to be recovering from her injuries.
The story made national headlines both for the brutality of the crime and for the unusual motive cited by prosecutors. According to a criminal complaint, the two girls told the police that they had been planning the attack for months. They bore no animus toward their victim. Instead, the girls said, they had tried to kill their classmate to impress a shadowy villain who haunted the woods. They called him Slender Man — or Slender, for short.
Slender Man is a horror figure for the selfie age. You can think of him as a web-based, crowdsourced urban legend. He was born in 2009 as part of a Photoshop contest on the web forum Something Awful. From there, Slender Man stories, videos, and pictures — all fictional — began to spread online. In many of them, he’s pictured as a disproportionately tall, skinny man dressed in a dark suit who often stands in the background, silently stalking his victims.
Today, you can find shards of the Slender Man myth across the web. But one of his primary haunts is the Creepypasta Wiki, a popular forum where people work together to create spooky stories. According to prosecutors, the girls first discovered Slender Man on the Creepypasta Wiki, and what they saw there convinced them that he was real.
The terribly sad case has drawn Creepypasta into the familiar controversy over what is and isn’t appropriate for children to see online. There have been calls for the forum to be taken down or blocked, and for parents to prohibit their children from looking at it, although the site itself has long urged parents to monitor how their children use the site.