By Brendan O'Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A murder plot allegedly hatched by two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls in which a classmate was stabbed 19 times has put a spotlight on the apparent object of their affections - a shadowy paranormal character on the Internet known as Slenderman.
A criminal complaint said the girls, charged as adults with first-degree attempted homicide, wanted to become favorites of the fictional being, who wears a black suit and has long black tentacles coming out of his back to capture prey.
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier allegedly lured their friend into a wooded area in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and stabbed her on Saturday morning after a sleepover. Authorities said the attack was planned for months.
According to the complaint, Weier told a detective that killing her friend would have shown Slenderman she was dedicated to him.
"We have to kill (the victim) to prove ourselves worthy to the Slender," she told authorities, the complaint said.
The 12-year-old victim was found crawling out of the woods by a bicyclist and is being treated at a hospital.
Slenderman, created by Eric Knudsen for a Photoshop contest in a forum on Somethingawful.com, has become an Internet sensation since his creation in 2009, with many variations appearing in photos, drawings and also in paranormal and horror stories throughout the Internet.
"It was pretty spontaneous. I saw some of the pictures in the thread and just decided to make something that I myself would find creepy," Knudsen said in an interview on a Slenderman site in 2011.
The ghostly Slenderman has a featureless face and wears a bowler or fedora, according to Creepypasta.com, the site where prosecutors believe the girls learned of him and started to become enamored by him.
Criminologist and mass media expert Frankie Bailey said he suspected more than just a fascination with Slenderman drove the girls to commit the alleged crime.
"This is going to require looking at what's been going on in these girls' lives and their individual psychology," Bailey, a state University of New York at Albany professor, said on Wednesday in a telephone interview.
The girls told police they planned to walk to Slenderman's mansion in Nicolet National Park, about 330 miles (530 km) north of the Milwaukee suburb, and become his proxies. It was not clear from the complaint how they came up with that location.
According to Creepypasta.com, Slenderman captures his prey with his tentacles and then absorbs, kills or takes his victims to an undisclosed location.
The complaint said Geyser told a detective she feared Slenderman, who watched her and was in her dreams. She also said he could read minds and teleport and that she got "Slender sickness" because of his radiation, according to the complaint.
Geyser's lawyer, Anthony Cotton, said his client may be mentally ill.
"I am going to leave it to the doctors to decide whether she is or isn't mentally ill," he said.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Peter Cooney)