SALT LAKE CITY — Two Wisconsin girls accused of stabbing a friend 19 times and leaving her for dead claim they were trying to please a fictional character they believed was real, launching a nationwide conversation about the risks of certain websites and their impact on children.
The website Creepypasta.wikia.com attracts readers to a forum of horror fantasy stories and, in the case of the stabbing, focused on a character called "Slender Man."
Law enforcement officers and parents, many of whom had never heard of the website, are concerned about what kids may be viewing on the Internet.
"Students have a tough time making the connection between the real world and the online world. The online world seems like a game to them but when it goes bad is when those two worlds collide," said S. Max Rogers, Utah's Director of Netsmartz, an Internet and safety outreach program that connects with 72 percent of schools in Utah.
Around 2006, the term "copy and paste" went viral and was coined "copypasta" by 4chan, an online community. Different genres of copypasta were then created, the most popular of which is Creepypasta, according to Time magazine and other media outlets.
Creepypasta released a statement in response to the stabbing incident.
"This is an isolated incident, and does not represent or attribute the Creepypasta community as a whole. This wiki does not endorse or advocate for the killing, worship, and otherwise replication of rituals of fictional works. There is a line of between fiction and reality, and it is up to you to realize where the line is. We are a literature site, not a crazy satanic cult," a blogger identified as Sloshedtrain wrote.
"I think that parents aren’t always appreciating how powerful the Internet is for kids and how powerful these games are that they become all-absorbing," said Douglas Goldsmith, executive director of the Children’s Center in Salt Lake City.
"A lot of children will communicate if we ask them the right questions. We’ve got to say what’s happening in that relationship, you're sounding really mad, what are you going to do about those mad feelings," he said.
The girls, who were charged as adults with attempted homicide on Monday, thought Slender Man was a real being and sought to join him in his mansion. But they believed they had to prove their dedication to him by committing murder first, according to a report in the Milwaukee Sentinel. The girls invited their friend to a sleepover last Friday, stabbed her 19 times the following morning, and left her in a wooded area.
Slender Man was created in 2009 by Eric Knudsen and is one of the most popular characters on Creepypasta, according to the website. Slender Man is described as tall, thin, featureless and always dressed in a black suit. It has the role of stalking, abducting and traumatizing people, particularly children.
"Having a conversation or a training, much like the ones we do, maybe could have helped those students understand that the online world is directly connected with the real world unfortunately I think they got carried away with what they were doing," Rogers said.
He noted that whether it is Creepypasta or a racy Facebook profile picture, online decisions can have significant, permanent impacts on people's futures.
"Things that you do online, come into the real world and they’ll haunt you for the rest of your life," Rogers said.
Email: email@example.com, Twitter: MirandaCollette
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company