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The parents of the young girl who almost died in an attack inspired by the online character Slender Man are sharing their side of the story publicly for the first time.
The 12-year-old Wisconsin girl, Payton Leutner, and her parents, Stacie and Joe, spoke to 20/20‘s David Muir for a report airing Friday.
Law enforcement officials say two of the girl’s classmates, also 12, planned the attack on her for months, hoping to prove to the world that the online character Slender Man was real. They allegedly stabbed the victim 19 times.
“I walked into the trauma room she was in. She was pale as a ghost,” remembers Stacie Leutner of seeing her daughter in the hospital. “She was crying. She couldn’t breathe. She saw me. She put her hand out and I rushed over to her and I put my arms around her and I lay next to her.”
Payton couldn’t speak because of her injuries, so she wrote notes to her family, asking when she could go home and if police had arrested her attackers, who allegedly lured her into a forest with the intention of killing her there.
When her parents asked Payton how she found the strength to crawl out of the forest, she told them, “I wanted to live.”
The 20/20 report caught up with Payton as she is today, showing her playing with cats at the local animal shelter. Her parents say she is slowly starting to return to her old self.
Her parents said there were no serious warning signs that there was anything wrong with one of the alleged attackers, Morgan Geyser, who had been Payton’s best friend since fourth grade.
But Stacie Leutner said Payton had complained that Morgan would send her links to stories about Slender Man, and that the stories frightened her.
Joe Leutner said he hoped his daughter’s story would inspire parents to do a little more digging into what their children were reading online, while Stacie Leutner admitted she felt for the parents of her daughter’s alleged attackers.
“I can’t imagine what they’re going through. I can’t imagine getting that phone call, hearing these things, knowing it was the person that you loved,” said Stacie Leutner.
Morgan and the other alleged attacker, Anissa Weier, have been charged as adults and could face 60 years in prison. Their attorneys are seeking to have their cases moved to juvenile court, which could see them released at age 25.
Asked what she thought about that possibility, Stacey Leutner said her concern is Payton’s well-being.
“For me, it’s about making sure Payton feels safe and that Payton feels like she can move on with the rest of her life with no fear.”
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