On Sunday, the 12-year-old posted a blog update. “Actually preparing to die. 🙃💀,” she wrote.
By Tuesday, she and a fellow middle-schooler at Florida’s Bartow Middle School had been arrested for allegedly plotting a Satanic mass-murder with knives and a pizza cutter in a school bathroom.
The two suspects, whose names The Daily Beast is not disclosing, are 11- and 12-year-old girls, in sixth and seventh grades, respectively. An arrest warrant, which charges them with conspiracy to commit murder and other offenses, describes them as plotting to murder up to 25 students with knives, eat parts of the victims, and kill themselves in the hopes of meeting Satan. Their case is strikingly similar to a 2014 plot, in which two 12-year-old girls stabbed a friend in order to appease a fictional character from a creepy urban legend. And like the 2014 plot, the Bartow case will likely see attorneys argue the difference between a legitimate murder conspiracy, and childlike murder fantasy.
The 11-year-old’s mother received a phone call during second period on Tuesday. Her daughter wasn’t in class, the school said, according to an arrest affidavit. The mother replied that there must be some mistake. Her daughter had gone to school like usual that morning.
Assistant principals swept the school for the girl, and eventually found her in a bathroom stall with the 12-year-old. When asked to empty their pockets, the girls produced four knives, a knife sharpener, and a metal pizza cutter. The kitchen tools were meant to be murder weapons, the girls told a school resource officer.
The girls told the officer that they’d planned to wait in the bathroom for smaller students, whom they could overpower and stab to death. They said they hoped to kill between 15 and 25 students and pile them in a stall before stabbing themselves to death. While planning the attack, the girls had run internet searches on murder and where to “stab to bleed out the fastest,” according to the arrest affidavit. Police discovered a hand-drawn map of the school, which the girls had used to plan the killing.
Other elements of the plot seemed more fantastical. The girls spoke of eating parts of their victims, and brought a goblet to school, with the hopes of drinking their victims’ blood, according to the affidavit. A picture of the glass, provided by police, shows a green cup, likely borrowed from a parent’s kitchen.
“Killing all of these students was in hopes that it would make them worse sinners ensuring that after they committed suicide [they] would get to go to hell so they could be with Satan,” the affidavit reads.
“Today is health lessens [sic] thank Satan we’re doing this in a bit,” the last Snapchat message between the girls reads, according to the affidavit.
The knives, the age of the alleged conspirators, the murder plot, and the shared belief in an otherworldly figure mirrors a 2014 case that became known as the Slenderman Stabbing. In May of that year, a pair of Wisconsin 12-year-olds badly stabbed a close friend. In what observers speculated was a case of shared psychosis, the two girls hoped to commit murder to become “proxies” for Slenderman, a murderous, fictional character popular in the internet horror (or “creepypasta”) forums the girls loved.
The Slenderman Stabbing, in which both tween killers were tried as adults, sparked a national conversation about childhood delusion and the girls’ grip on reality.
“By the age of 8—and definitely by 12—psychologists agree, most children are as able as adults to sort out what’s real from what is not,” New York Magazine’s Lisa Miller wrote in an extensive feature on the Slenderman case. “What sets children and adolescents apart from adults is a mental task psychologists call ‘discounting’—the rational inner voices that can subdue overheated emotional responses to the imagination’s powerful projections and that come with the maturing of the frontal lobe by around age 25.”
Early adolescents can also retreat into fantasy to “give an episodic sense of control over one’s environment, an effect that may have a narcotic appeal to those just starting to come to terms with their newfound agency in the world, and the fact that that agency has limits,” Miller wrote, adding that, even in their escapist fantasy, the two Slenderman stabbers still imagined themselves answering to the authority figure of Slenderman.
The two Florida girls also counted on an authority figure—in this case, Satan—to care for them after the planned killings. The girls’ correspondences also suggest interest in similar horror culture, combined with real-world terror of early adolescence.
Included in police evidence, shared with The Daily Beast, is a folded-up note from one of the 12-year-old’s friends, part love letter, part apology. The other child was sorry for falling out of touch lately, they wrote. They’d been grounded, and then hospitalized for suicidal tendencies.
“I’m sorry that this is so short but I just wanted to let you know that I’m safe so far and I’m still thinking about you every day,” the other child wrote.
On a blogging site where they were both active, that child identified as the 12-year-old’s romantic partner, and wrote fanfiction about going to live with Slenderman. On her own blog on that site, the 12-year-old also wrote fiction about becoming a “proxy” for a faceless killer.
“A proxy is a person who becomes a creepypasta and kills people and if you don’t become a proxy then I will have to kill you,” she described the fictional killer as saying in a 2017 story.
Interest in creepypasta or horror movies (which the girls watched on Sunday, the same day the 12-year-old blogged about “preparing to die”) is no indicator of violent tendencies. But the trial for the 2014 Slenderman Stabbing referenced those interests repeatedly, as jurors attempted to untangle the girls’ fantasy worlds from the reality in which they’d badly stabbed a close friend. Had they really understood what they’d done? One of the Slenderman stabbers liked to pretend to be a cat; so did the Florida 12-year-old, according to her blog.
Both Wisconsin girls were acquitted on grounds of insanity, and sentenced to decades in mental-health facilities.
Photographs of one of the Florida girl’s notebooks (it’s not clear which one) includes loosely sketched murder plans, alongside middle-school angst.
“trying hard to leave.
stuck in a endless abyss.
claw a way out, now,” she wrote on one page, which is included in police evidence.
Underneath the lines, the girl had been counting out the beats to each word: “stuck,” one syllable, “endless,” two syllables. She’d been trying to write a haiku.