By Raquel Rutledge
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE (MCT) -- Victoria Mendez had never heard of the mythical man who hides out in the woods and kidnaps and even kills children.
The 11-year-old didn't know that her neighbor and occasional playmate, Morgan Geyser, believed the online legend, called Slenderman, was real. Or that her friend believed she needed to murder someone to prove it.
"I'm very shocked," Mendez said. "My heart's just beating. Morgan looked like a person that was so nice she wouldn't even give a paper cut to someone."
Parents and children in Waukesha and nationwide grappled with details Monday about a pair of 12-year-old girls accused in the grisly stabbing of one of their close friends. The girls told police they had plotted the murder for several months to prove their worth to Slenderman, and that they had planned to live in Nicolet National Park where they thought he owned a mansion, according to the criminal complaint.
Geyser and her friend, Anissa Weier, were charged Monday with attempted first-degree intentional homicide. The victim, whose name has not been released, remained in critical condition. She was stabbed Saturday 19 times, including in the heart, one of the wounds barely missing a major artery.
She was "1 millimeter away from certain death," hospital physicians told police, according to the complaint.
Nancy Kaser-Boyd, a forensic psychologist at Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, called the alleged actions by the girls extremely rare.
"You just don't see it at that age and especially not in girls," she said. "It just hardly ever happens."
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show girls accounted for just 9 percent of all homicide arrests among children ages 10-17 in 2011.
Kaser-Boyd said typical 12-year-old children know that killing a person is a permanent action, but that they might not fully understand the consequences.
"By the age of 12 they certainly have a basic understanding of right and wrong but they can get caught up in a fantasy world," she said. "Their thinking is not yet mature."
Similar to a mentally ill adult who suffers from delusions, girls engrossed in a fantasy world may have believed they were justified in the attempted murder, said Kaser-Boyd, who teaches violence risk assessment and sits on the Los Angeles County Superior Court psychology expert panel that reviews juvenile cases.
Plotting such an action over many weeks, and whispering about it on the bus, as one of the girls told police they did, demonstrates a malevolence, she added.
"There is a sadistic quality to that," she said.
Lexie Leuzinger, a sixth-grader at Horning Middle School -- which the alleged attackers and their victim attended -- sat next to Weier in class. Leuzinger said Weier had a picture of Slenderman as the background on her iPad and often read horror stories on the website CreepyPasta. She said Weier and Geyser were good friends with the victim.
"She seemed normal," she said, referring to Weier.
Her mom, Michelle Leuzinger, added: "That's what's even scarier for me, as a parent. It could have been my daughter she was planning to kill."
Both Leuzingers said they were upset with the way the school has handled the situation. The school did not offer special counseling or address the issue at all in school Monday, they said. Teachers told kids not to talk about it, Lexie Leuzinger said. Michelle Leuzinger received a voice message from school officials after school Monday alerting parents to the crime and assuring they would have counselors available today.
Leuzinger said she would not send her daughter to school tolday.
And while school officials supplied iPads at the beginning of the year and promised to monitor them periodically, they never did, the Leuzingers said. But on Monday, teachers collected all the iPads.
Todd Gray, superintendent of the Waukesha School District, issued a statement Monday, which included an attachment with suggestions on how to talk to children about what happened.
"The incident did not take place on any school grounds or during school hours." the emailed statement said. "Please know that we continue to promote and maintain safe schools for all students, including doing our best to monitor and address situations between students that can have tragic consequences. As our thoughts and support go out to the victim and her family, we have also provided counselors at all schools where this may have caused distress among students."
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.
Eve Stevens lives in the same housing complex as Geyser and has a 12-year-old son who goes to a different school.
"If you look at the shows they've got nowadays ... I try to get my kids to watch TV and stuff. You know, ABC Family. But ABC Family has this show 'Pretty Little Liars' and all it's about is these teenage girls involved in all these murder conspiracies," Stevens said. "This is not cute. I'm starting to sound like my parents but now I know why they were so scared. But it's just getting worse and worse."
(Sarah Maslin, Lydia Mulvany, Devon Waugh and Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.)
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