The Wisconsin girl who survived being stabbed more than a dozen times by her best friend and another classmate in an effort to please the “Slenderman” has “come to accept” the physical reminders of that horrifying day, she said in her first interview since the 2014 attack.
Payton Leutner was 12 when she was lured by two girls she thought were her friends into the woods in Waukesh in 2014. Payton believed she was going to play hide-and-seek, but the two girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, instead planned to kill her to please a fictional character written about in horror stories online.
Geyser stabbed Payton repeatedly in the arms, legs and torso with a steak knife while Weier urged her to continue, investigators said. The pair told Payton they would get help for her, but instead headed toward Interstate 94, where they were apprehended.
Payton dragged herself from the park bathroom where the attack occurred to a nearby path, where she was found by a bicyclist. She spent seven days in the hospital, where she was treated for 19 stab wounds, including two stabs to two major organs, and one that missed her heart by less than a millimeter.
“It’s just a part of me. I don’t think much of them,” Payton, now 17, said of her scars to ABC’s David Muir in a “20/20″ episode airing Friday. “They will probably go away and fade eventually.”
Payton returned to school four months after the attack, while Geyser and Weier were found not guilty by reason of mental disease and sent to a mental institution for up to 40 years.
The case garnered significant press and served as inspiration for several fictional stories as well. The documentary “Beware the Slenderman” was released by HBO in 2016, while episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Criminal Minds,” the Lifetime movie “Terror in the Woods” and Netflix’s “Mercy Black” are all said to have drawn on the 2014 case.
But Friday’s interview is Payton’s first.
“I feel like it’s time for people to see my side rather than everyone else’s,” she said.
Before the attack, Payton had been a positive and hopeful person always interested in seeing the good in people, a quality she drew on when she became friends with Geyser in the fourth grade.
“She was sitting all by herself and I didn’t think anyone should have to sit by themselves,” she told ABC.
While Geyser was “a little lonely,” she seemed happy, and the pair became close as they spent time sleeping over each other’s homes, playing outside and drawing.
Then in sixth grade, Geyser and Weier became friends. Their conversations with Payton often turned to the “Slenderman,” she said.
“I thought it was odd. It kind of frightened me a little bit,” Payton said. “But I went along with it. I was supportive because I thought that’s what she liked.”
But eventually Payton reached her breaking point. Unnerved by the disturbing tales of the boogeyman who stalked children, she said she told Geyser she didn’t like talking about it and that it scared her.
“But she really liked it and thought it was real,” Payton said. “I saw the change from fifth to sixth grade when she met Anissa."
“I didn’t like [Weier] at all,” Payton said. “I just hung out with her because I knew that Morgan really loved her as a friend. But she was always cruel to me. I feel like she was jealous that Morgan was friends with me and her.”
Though Payton considered ending her friendship with Geyser over their increasingly growing differences, she decided not to.
Then on May 31, 2014, Payton arrived at Geyser’s for her 12th birthday slumber party. Throughout the entire night, Payton felt something was wrong.
“Something was strange because at all of our past sleepovers, [Geyser] always wanted to stay up all night because she could never do that at home,” Payton said. “But on [the night of] the birthday party, she wanted to go to bed.
“Once I look back on it, I was like, that is really weird,” she continued. “Why didn’t I see something? Why didn’t I notice something was weird? But I’m not blaming myself at all. Because who could ever see something like this coming? Nobody could ever see something like this coming.”
After the attack, Payton’s focus was on finding help. After that, she focused on surviving.
“I wrote on whiteboards to communicate because I couldn’t speak much,” Payton said. “I had the intubation tube in my lungs because I couldn’t breathe on my own for a while.”
While her attackers’ motive fell in line with what Payton knew of the girls, the fact that they had plotted for so long to kill her came as a shock.
“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 said. “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 will attend college next year and plans to pursue a career in the medical field, inspired by the care she received when she needed it most. Though she doesn’t fear the day her attackers might be freed, the effects of what she went through still linger.
She sleeps with a pair of broken scissors under her pillow, “just in case,” and readily had words of caution for parents whose children might not understand the difference between fiction and reality.
“Parents need to talk to their kids directly, saying, ‘This is not real. This is fake,'” she said.
Payton’s interview will be featured in a two-hour “20/20” special, “The Wicked,” Friday, Oct. 25 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. The episode will feature updated talks with Joe and Stacie Leutner, as well as interviews with the detectives who first interrogated Geyser and Weier, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a reporter, Geyser and Weier's mothers, and doctors who evaluated the defendants.