STAGGERING out of the woods, blood soaking through her white T-shirt and yellow shorts, Payton Leutner collapsed on the grass and prayed she would survive.
The 12-year-old, from Wisconsin, had been stabbed 19 times after being lured into the woods by her best friends, in May 2014.
Payton Leutner was just 12 when she was attacked[/caption]
Chillingly Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weir, also 12, believed they were being ordered to murder Payton by Slender Man – a fictional online character who stalks children and is often depicted leading them into woodland.
At their trial, in 2017, Morgan admitted stabbing her friend “everywhere” and, sobbing, told the court: “Anissa said that she couldn’t do it and then I had to.”
Despite their young age at the time of the crime, they were tried as adults and Geyser was sentenced to 40 years in a secure psychiatric institution while Weier was given 25 years.
But this week, seven years on from the attack, Weier has begged to be released, saying she has exhausted the treatments available at the Winnebago Mental Health facility and that she needs to be integrated into society.
Morgan Geyser with blood on her coat after her 2014 arrest[/caption]
Incredibly, Payton survived the attack – known as the Slender Man stabbing – but recovery, both physically and mentally, took years.
In her only interview, given to a US news series in 2019, she said she would “thank” her attackers for “Making me what I am.”
“I’ve come to accept all of the scars that I have,” she told ABC.
“It’s just a part of me. I don’t think much of them. They will probably go away and fade eventually.”
But she was adamant that her former friends did not deserve to be tried as children.
“Adult crime is adult court,” she said. “If they had stolen a candy bar, sure that’s a child. But you tried to kill somebody. That’s an adult crime.”
Payton is taken into an ambulance after the brutal attack[/caption]
Payton in her only interview on the attack, in 2019[/caption]
Sinister Slender Man obsession
Seeing she was sitting alone at school, eight-year-old Payton approached Morgan Geyser and they became close friends.
During police questioning Geyser admitted Payton – who she called by the affectionate name Bella – was “my only friend for a long time.”
But when Geyser became friends with Weier, Payton began to feel uncomfortable about their growing obsession with The Slender Man.
The sinister character first appeared on the online forum Something Awful, in 2009, and became the subject of fan fiction on the horror site Creepypasta – where Weier and Geyser first came across it.
Created by artist Victor Surge – real name Eric Knudsen – the terrifying faceless figure is said to have telepathic powers that control the minds of children and lure them into his woodland lair.
The pair believed that if they offered the fictional fiend a “sacrifice” they would become his chosen disciples and could live in his secret mansion.
Anissa’s Mum Kristi Weier later said: “They thoroughly believed that Slender Man was real and they wanted to prove that he was real.”
Although frightened by the figure, Payton initially went along with it – unaware of their plans to offer her up as the victim.
“[Geyser] liked it and thought it was real,” she says. “I was supportive because I thought that’s what she liked.”
Birthday sleepover turns to horror
When Geyser invited her two friends for a sleepover to celebrate her 12th birthday, on May 31, 2014, Payton suspected nothing.
“It was a Friday night, and she was so excited,” Payton’s mum Stacie said in 2015.
But Geyser was acting strangely, wanting to go to bed early instead of staying up all night eating pizza and playing, as they had done in the past.
The following morning Geyser suggested the three of them walk in the woods and Payton agreed.
In the woods, Weier suggested a game of hide and seek and told Payton to lie on the ground and cover herself in sticks and leaves.
But the “game” was a ruse.
Egged on by Weier, Geyser stabbed her friend in the legs, arms and torso 19 times, using a knife taken from the her kitchen.
The knife was taken from Geyser’s kitchen[/caption]
Payton’s memory of the stabbing isn’t clear but that she recalls a heartbreaking sense of betrayal.
The pair left her for dead, bleeding profusely, as they went in search of the Slender Man, convinced he would now appear in the woods.
Gathering the last of her strength, Payton managed to pull herself to her feet, grabbing trees for support, and stagger out of the woods onto a grass verge beside a road.
Within minutes a cyclist came across her and called 911.
Payton’s T-shirt was soaked in blood[/caption]
Pictures of the blood-drenched clothes were released by police[/caption]
A hair’s breadth from death
Doctors at the local hospital were shocked by the extent of her injuries, battling to save her life during six hours of intensive surgery.
The wounds to the arms and legs had only damaged soft tissue but one blow to her abdomen had cut through her diaphragm, hitting her liver. Another had nearly pierced her heart and narrowly missed a major artery.
“If the knife had gone the width of a human hair further, she wouldn’t have lived,” said surgeon Dr John Kelemen.
When she came round after surgery, Payton’s first question was: “Are they in custody?”
She was relieved to hear her former friends had been arrested and was not shocked to hear the motive had been to appease the Slender Man.
“After I heard why she did it, I was like, ‘Well, this doesn’t surprise me at all’ because she believed so hard in this thing that she would do anything for it,” she says.
“But it was a little shocking to me to see that they had this big, huge plan that they had been working on for months.”
Payton’s shoe was left in the wood[/caption]
Still sleeping with scissors
In the wake of the attack, Payton was so frightened she slept in her mother’s bed and, five years on, she said she still slept with a pair of broken scissors under her bed.
At the 2017 trial, Geyser and Weier were found “not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect” and sent to the secure unit for 40 and 25 years respectively or until “the complete resolution of symptoms” – meaning they could be released sooner if treatment works.
In a statement at the time, parents Stacie and husband Joe said they were “disappointed” by the verdict which allowed the pair to request release every six months.
“Their decision forces our family to relive this horrific crime every six months wondering if they will be released,” they said.
“The potential release of an assailant that methodically planned and executed an attack in which our little girl was stabbed 19 times puts the community and our family at risk.”
However the family decided not appeal as a new trial would mean Payton taking the stand.
“She has never talked about her attack so asking her to testify and relive her experience in front of a courtroom of strangers felt cruel and unnecessary,” said Stacie.
Morgan Geyser admitted “hurting Bella” at the 2017 trial[/caption]
Bids for release from both girls
Geyser’s bid to be retried as a child was rejected by an appeals court in 2020 and this week Weier wrote a letter to Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren, asking for early release.
She wrote: “I hate my actions [on the day of the attack], but through countless hours of therapy I no longer hate myself for them.
“If I am to become a productive member of society, I need to be a part of society.”
Weier said she had “exhausted” the treatment available at the mental health unit and suggested she would like to enter higher education.
A hearing has been set for June 11.
Brave Payton says she has no fear of her attackers being released because “If she ever tried to come by me, she would go right back where she was.”
Now 19, she is at college and plans to go into the medical profession, partly inspired by her trauma.
Anissa Weier has now applied for early release[/caption]
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Asked what she would say if she met Morgan Geyser now, she said: “I would probably initially thank her.
“I would say, ‘Just because of what she did, I have the life I have now. I really like it. I didn’t have a plan when I was 12, and now I do because of everything that I went through.
“That’s truly how I feel. Without the whole situation, I wouldn’t be who I am.”