Stabbing occurred just blocks from website creator's home
Joe Jozwowski had just woken up Saturday when he heard sirens whiz past. Then a Flight for Life helicopter.
He and his wife headed out to get closer; ambulances and police cars were huddled just six blocks from where they live.
In such a residential neighborhood, they wondered if there had been a domestic disturbance.
Then word spread. It was a 12-year-old girl, stabbed.
On Monday afternoon, Jozwowski's wife alerted him at work to a breaking news article. The girl had been stabbed 19 times, police said, by two other 12-year-olds. The girls all went to Horning Middle School. And the stabbing, law enforcement said, appeared to be a bizarre attempt to please a fictional, Internet-based horror character who the girls thought was real.
"I think Slender Man is involved in this," his wife texted.
Jozwowski's stomach knotted.
Last year, he registered a website for fans of horror stories. The site is devoted to the creepypasta online community that grew out of a fascination with Slender Man, who was created in 2009 and is now featured in stories, videos, games, fan art, even music. One of the primary sites, Creepypasta Wiki, was mentioned in the criminal complaint charging Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier. Another site is called creepypasta.com. The third, managed by Jozwowski, is CreepyPasta Network, a Facebook-like forum where fans discuss and share stories and art they've created around fantasy, paranormal and science fiction topics.
In other words, the administrator of a website connected to the fictional character reported as the motive for the attempted homicide lives a mere half-mile from the scene of the crime.
"We know in the community that Slender Man is not real; he's a literary character, just like Captain Nemo," Jozwowski said in an interview Thursday. "He was made up by someone who wrote him down."
All the sites have expanded to feature a variety of suspense and horror stories. But some of the tales include recurring characters, such as Slender Man and another villain called Jeff the Killer.
As soon as Jozwowski heard the connection, he contacted the administrators of the other sites.
"You're about to get a lot of hate mail about this," he said he told them. "Make sure you stay glued to this issue and know how to field these questions."
According to police, Weier and Geyser said they had to kill someone to please Slender Man and to prove he was real. The girls planned to run away to a northern Wisconsin forest, to live with him in his mansion.
Jozwowski said he's spent hours this week searching for stories or other material that might connect Slender Man to northern Wisconsin, or lead someone to believe they had to attempt murder to become his "proxy."
He's come up empty-handed.
"I've scoured and Googled for hours and lost sleep trying to figure out the correlation between Slender Man and Wisconsin," said Jozwowski, 37, who works as a web designer and considers creepypasta activities his hobby.
"I can only think that perhaps they were getting him confused with Edward Gein."
Gein was the convicted murderer from the central Wisconsin town of Plainfield who exhumed corpses from local graveyards and used their skin and body parts in his house. His case was the inspiration for "Psycho" and "The Silence of the Lambs" and other books and movies.
Jozwowski said there are probably at least 100 different stories floating around the Internet about Slender Man, where he came from and what he did. There's also an online game called Slender that's so frightening it became a trend to post YouTube videos of people's reactions while playing it. One video has more than 11 million page views.
But again, Jozwowski said, there's nothing in the game that requires murder to prove Slender Man exists. The goal is to collect pieces of paper in a forest before coming face-to-face with the image of the faceless, black-suited Slender Man.
He noted something else, too: The creepypasta community is not intended for girls as young as Weier and Geyser.
Some stories require a birth date to confirm the reader is at least 18.
"I've never known of a creepypasta user as young as 12," he said.
Jozwowski, a father himself with a 3-year-old son, said he does not know the alleged attackers or victim, nor does he believe he has met them in real life.
He said he has searched the profiles of the approximately 9,000 people registered on his site to see if any of them matched up with the alleged attackers. He came up with nothing — although registering is not necessary to view the site.
The leaders of the various sites have reached out this week to express sympathy for the families involved, and to explain they are simply supporting a literature genre, and not condoning real-life violence.
The creator of Slender Man, a 33-year-old Florida resident named Eric Knudsen who started it all in 2009, said in a statement that he was "deeply saddened by the tragedy in Wisconsin."
Knudsen started the Slender Man meme when he digitally added a tall and willowy figure in a suit with no face into a black-and-white photograph of seemingly unsuspecting children, then uploaded it to an online forum at a website called somethingawful.com. The image went viral, and the character became a phenomenon.
"The real tragedy here is that two 12-year-old girls were not armed with enough real-life skills to distinguish reality from fantasy," Jozwowski said.
To raise money for the victim's families and for SafeHorizon, a nonprofit that supports victims of home and community violence, and to raise awareness about the true nature of the creepypasta community, Jozwowski and users of his site are hosting an online fundraiser next week.
The event will be a 24-hour marathon web stream of users reading suspense and horror stories — all of which will be prescreened, and none of which will feature Slender Man, according to Jozwowski.
In keeping with the nature of the site, the marathon will start at noon on Friday the 13th.