By TAYLOR W. ANDERSON
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who have been charged with stabbing and nearly killing a friend told investigators that they planned the slaying to curry favor with a fictional character they read about on a horror website.
Here's a look at the character called Slenderman and the website police say the girls had been reading for months:
WHO IS SLENDERMAN?
Slenderman is a paranormal being who lurks near forests and who absorbs, kills or carries off victims. In some accounts, he targets children. He looks like a long-limbed, lean man in a black suit but has no face. In some accounts, he has tentacles protruding from his back.
Eric Knudsen of Florida created the character in response to a call for submissions from the online forum SomethingAwful, said Shira Chess, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia who has researched Slenderman's origins. Knudsen posted the first photos along with a fictional news story under the username Victor Surge on June 10, 2009. He did not respond Tuesday to an email seeking comment.
Other writers, artists and programmers later created additional stories, movies and video games featuring Slenderman. Websites show what appear to be photographs of the character, lending it the air of authenticity.
"It feels real," Chess said. "A 12-year-old potentially isn't going to know the whole origin of the story."
WHAT IS CREEPY PASTA?
The girls told Wisconsin police that they read about Slenderman on the website creepypasta.wikia.com.
The site defines a creepypasta as "a short story posted on the Internet that is designed to unnerve and shock the reader."
Online communities have developed to distribute creepypastas and create new ones, said Chris Edmond, a writer who posts under the username MrCreepyPasta. The stories can attract large audiences; Edmond has 385,000 Facebook followers and 500,000 YouTube subscribers.
Edmond said sites dedicated to creepypastas are in no way meant to incite violence. Instead, he said, the goal is to be creative and foster the horror genre.
WHO RUNS THIS WEBSITE?
Creepypasta.wikia.com is part of a larger site, wikia.com, which includes 2,700 wikis devoted to fan fiction. A wiki allows groups of users to add, delete, edit and share information.
An administrator posted on creepypasta.wikia.com Tuesday to say that all stories on the site are fiction and not meant to advocate or endorse killing or other violence. The post described the stabbing in Wisconsin as "an isolated incident, and does not represent or attribute the Creepypasta community as a whole."
"There is a line of between fiction and reality, and it is up to you to realize where the line is," the administrator wrote. "We are a literature site, not a crazy satanic cult."
Attempts to reach site operators by phone and email were unsuccessful.
SHOULD CHILDREN BE READING THIS?
Creepypasta sites aren't aimed at children, but they attract thousands of readers younger than 18. Edmond said about one-third of his audience on Facebook and YouTube is between the ages of 13 and 17.
Joanne Cantor, a retired University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who studied the effect of media on children, said stories such as Slenderman can have a greater effect because children can interact with the tale by viewing pictures, watching videos or posting their own versions of stories or comments.
"It could very well be that they were confused about reality" in the stabbing case, Cantor said.
She recommended parents talk to their children about how to determine whether things they see on the Internet are real.
"It should say to parents, don't underestimate what's going on in your kids' media use," Cantor said.
Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson in Milwaukee and News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
HuffPost Live reached out to Knudsen to ask what he thought of the story, but he wasn't immediately available to comment.