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tv   2020  ABC  February 17, 2018 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

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>> reporter: it was a friday night in a small american town in waukesha, wisconsin. and it was a scene playing out like so many across the country. a small group of parents had said yes to a sleepover. a birthday party. three 12-year-old girls were dropped off here at skateland to begin the night. but what would happen over the next 24 hours would haunt three families to this very day. one of those 12-year-old girls, payton leutner was stabbed 19 times and left for dead in the woods. and the entire scene was planned out by the other two girls. >> what were you trying to do with her when you stabbed her? >> kill her. i might as well just say it we were trying to kill her. >> reporter: because it turns out, there was someone else looming large at that birthday get together. a fictional character named
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slender man who they learned of on the internet and those two 12-year-old girls said they were doing this for him. >> when morgan said to you that, "if -- if we don't do this for slender -- our families-- and loved ones are gonna be killed"" do you honestly believe that? >> well, yeah. 'cause he's -- he can be anywhere from 6 feet to 14 feet tall. he constantly wears a suit. he doesn't have a face. his skin is white. he can -- like, exploit these tendrils from his back and -- like, strangle his victims. >> reporter: for more than three years now, "20/20" has been documenting the three families nearly destroyed by the horror that played out during that sleepover. and tonight, right here, what we never knew before, asking the questions, how does this happen? how do 12-year-old girls fall for a fictional character? what would drive them to try to kill one of their own friends? and, what should happen to those two girls now?
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>> hey, morgan. >> reporter: it was just this month, the final sentence handed down. >> please be seated. >> reporter: after what you are about to see play out here tonight. >> breaking news, a 12-year-old girl is stabbed. >> the girl was lured into the area by two of her classmates, who allegedly stabbed her 19 times. >> the girls would hope the attack would earn them a home in slender man's mansion. >> slender man is a fictional horror character. >> reporter: we have been there for the journey. two different mothers now visiting their daughters locked up since they were 12. >> we try to visit at least once a week. on a good week i can get out there two to three times. >> anissa was actually sent to the washington county juvenile detention facility. >> reporter: kristi weier, her daughter is anissa. >> most children are only up there for an average of
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there for an average of four months, and she's been there almost three years. >> reporter: angie geyser's daughter, morgan, who came up with the plan and who held the knife. >> the children have no access to the outdoors, or even windows to look out of. >> in the last 35 months, anissa has maybe had 40 hours of fresh air. >> and there is no physical contact. >> i can't wipe away a tear, i can't give her a hug, i can't kiss her. >> reporter: their daughters are now teenagers, morgan is 15 and anissa is 16. they have spent countless hours driving to visit their daughters locked up, trying to wrap their heads around how their two little girls, just 12 years old at the time, could have done something so unimaginable. and all of it began that friday night. what was the plan for that night? >> on friday nights, skateland
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had free pizza, so the girls went a little early and ate dinner and skated. >> reporter: and the third girl who was with them, payton leutner, also just 12. stacie and joe leutner remember their daughter had been looking forward to it for weeks. >> you remember how excited she was that friday afternoon? >> oh my gosh, she was so, so excited. >> do you think payton had any idea? >> no, she had absolutely no idea. >> she was blindsided. >> reporter: blindsided by what those two friends had in store and they had been planning it for months. after that night of skating they would return to morgan's house. morgan's mother, angie, downstairs. >> they played up in morgan's bedroom with morgan's dolls, i mean, it was just a normal night. >> reporter: and no sign that two were plotting against payton? >> no, no sign whatsoever. the next morning, morgan asked if they could go to the park. >> reporter: how often would they go to the park? >> well, we were actually, believe it or not, pretty strict parents and didn't let morgan go
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out on her own very often. >> but you thought because she had her two friends it would be safe? >> mm-hmm. >> reporter: the first sign anything is wrong. a police officer showing up at angie's door. >> my heart dropped down into my stomach. not only were there police in my living room, but they were wearing riot gear. >> reporter: across town, officers are also arriving at payton's house. >> around the side of the house, up over the deck came, a uniformed officer. the first thing that goes through my mind is, something has happened to somebody that i love. >> and they asked me, "where's morgan?" i said, "she's at the park with her friends." >> reporter: angie geyser says the police tell her morgan is missing. they think she may be hiding her daughter. >> they searched the house, and i just kept asking what happened, what's going on? and they wouldn't tell me, other than to say there had been an incident at the park and one of the girls was hurt. >> reporter: at first, police
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refusing to reveal which one of those girls was hurt. they quickly also track down the parents of the third friend, anissa weier, telling them their daughter is missing too. >> my thought was child abduction. where is my daughter? that's the only thought i had in my head. >> reporter: it would take hours to piece together exactly what happened at that birthday sleep over. the first moment anyone would begin to learn of the horror is this call to 911. >> 911. >> i'm transferring over a caller on big bend. >> reporter: 12-year-old payton leutner had just crawled out of the woods covered in blood stabbed 19 times. and you can hear it in their voices, the operators can not believe what they are hearing. >> he came upon a 12-year-old female. she appears to have been stabbed. >> she appears to be what? >> stabbed. >> stabbed? >> correct. >> reporter: greg steinberg was riding his bike that morning. on a path that had actually been chained off. it was pure chance he came this way. >> reporter: and you were biking by, and she says to you what?
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>> could you help me please, i have been stabbed multiple times. i quick got out my cellphone i was shaking. >> reporter: he watches as the ambulance rushes her away. and when you looked at her, it was immediately apparent she had been stabbed multiple times? >> yeah. to her chest, abdomen, arm and leg. >> reporter: doctors fear she might not survive. and her mother stacie has just been told that payton has been rushed to the hospital. >> she was terrified. she was crying. she couldn't breathe. >> reporter: but she saw you there? >> she saw me. and she put her hand out. and i rushed over to her. and i put my arms around her. and i laid next to her. and i hugged her. and i said, "you're gonna be okay. it's gonna be fine." but i could see that she was covered. her arms and her legs and her abdomen, they were covered in stab wounds. >> reporter: there were so many stab wounds, it took two nurses to count them, 19 in all. and her little girl is now being raced down the hall. did you say anything to payton
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as they were wheeling her away? >> that i loved her and that she would be okay. >> reporter: payton's mother could not believe that her daughter's friend could be capable of this. >> morgan didn't do this, is what's going through my head. there's no way. there no way that's what's happened. morgan is 12. >> and morgan has never hurt a fly. it was just unthinkable that morgan would do anything to hurt someone else. >> reporter: but that's exactly what investigators were telling morgan's mother that her daughter and anissa weier had stabbed their friend multiple times. and now both girls were nowhere to be found. >> they had run away. and the police hadn't found them yet. >> they were going to find a mansion in the woods? >> oh the mansion, yeah, the mansion in the woods. they were into the nicolet forest, because they believed that there was a mansion there that slender man lived in. >> reporter: when we come back, the doctors discover it is worse than anyone thought. and we're with the surgeon that saves payton. >> less than a millimeter.
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>> between living and dying. >> yes. >> and where those investigators would discover those girls. they would reveal in their own words why they did this. the stunning interrogations. >> i didn't want to do this. >> why did you do it then? >> 'cause i was afraid of what would happen if i didn't. >> that's not my daughter saying those things. >> it was like looking at a different child? >> yes. >> reporter: but it was her daughter and what they would discover that had been hidden from that mother for years. when we come back. hello, aloe. kelp is on the way! with herbal essences we said no, no, no to this stuff... and yes, yes, yes to bio:renew. made with active antioxidants that work from the inside out... to help animate lifeless hair, and bring it back to life. find aahs and oos in every fresh bottle of herbal essences
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>> reporter: it's saturday morning in waukesha, wisconsin, just outside milwaukee, and a horrific scene is playing out. a birthday sleepover with three 12-year-olds the night before, and now two of those girls are missing. the third, payton leutner, has somehow crawled out of the woods, covered in stab wounds. 19 of them. >> major search by ground and air -- >> these are the woods where a
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stabbing accident happened. >> we are on the scene here. >> reporter: morgan geyser and anissa weier were missing. >> we had people all over waukesha looking for her. >> reporter: kristi had her daughter's cell phone she scours it, searching for any clues. instead, discovering something else. >> checked all of her text messages trying to figure out the people that she called, and contacted last, and i found basically her good-bye notes. >> reporter: on that cellphone this note, drafted by anissa. she writes -- this is my final wish to those who care, do not grieve my absence, but remember me for who i was. i love and cherish you all, and wouldn't do you harm. >> i still had no idea, but as soon as i found that, i called the detective right away, and showed him that information. >> reporter: while at that hospital, surgeon john keleman tells us he will never forget the wounds. he tells me about one of the stab wounds to payton's heart. >> the knife cut through the
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tissue but not the artery itself. >> exactly. >> and had it not? >> had it not, she would have had a major heart attack from the amount of bleeding and probably died within a minute or two. >> reporter: but they would save her life, as the hunt for the two other girls intensified. nearly five hours after payton crawled out of the woods, her two friends are suddenly found on the side of interstate 94 walking out of waukesha. >> they have found those two girls i'm told around, 12 years old. >> a knife with a 5-inch blade was found in one of the girls' bags. lieutenant tom moerman confronting them. >> i asked her to show me her hands. i noticed there was some staining on her sweatshirt. >> reporter: morgan's parents raced to the police station. >> i remember talking on the way how we were going to punish morgan for this. i mean, we just had no idea how serious it was.
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>> reporter: anissa weier's parents arrive at the police station too. they are told to wait. >> i stood right dead center of that lobby in full view of two cameras waiting to see my daughter. >> reporter: and listen to what their daughter anissa says to the investigator. >> your parents know that you're here talking to me, okay. and -- >> are they scared? >> they're glad they're s -- they're -- they're so glad that you're safe. they're -- we were scared for you guys. >> reporter: both girls in separate rooms, beginning to explain their plot to kill, referring to payton by her nickname, bella. >> why do you think you're here today? >> because anissa and i ran off after hurting bella. >> reporter: morgan tells the detective the plan to kill payton had been in the works for months. >> so you guys have been planning this a while? >> since december, she was my best friend since fourth grade. >> who was? >> payton.
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>> so why did you pick payton? >> i didn't pick her. >> who picked her? >> whoever anissa was talking about. she made it seem necessary. >> reporter: necessary, a word morgan geyser would use again, and again with that detective, saying her devotion to that fictional character slender man drove her to do this. >> there's this website called -- the creepypasta wiki. it's full of, like, horror stories. there was one of them called "slender man." >> reporter: slender man is the story of a character who suddenly appears, he changes and evolves all the time, with help from fans all over the world adding to the story giving a fictional character new life every day. you have said that slender man is the boogieman of this digital generation. >> he is -- the thing that we fear that we don't actually encounter. right? so we check our -- we check under our beds for the slender
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man but he's, you know, not actually there. >> reporter: morgan and anissa not only believed in slender man, they wanted to prove to the world he was real. >> morgan said, hey, anissa, we should be proxies. i was like, okay, how would we do that? >> she indicated that in order to become a proxy of slender man you needed to kill somebody to prove yourself worthy to him. >> i was excited because i wanted proof that he existed. >> reporter: as slender man's grip on these girls begins to reveal itself, back at the hospital, payton leutner is unable to talk, at first, writing to communicate. one of her first questions is this -- >> did they get them? we told her they were -- they were found and the police have them. >> reporter: and as a dad, in that moment, how hard was that? >> harder than i would have ever been able to imagine. this is my little girl who's laying there, and the only thing that i could tell her, at the time, to make her feel better was that, the police have them, and she was safe with us.
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>> reporter: when we come back -- the girls now describe their original plan, why it changed, and who actually held the knife in the woods. >> so she gives you the knife. >> and then i give it back to her and say, you do it. go ballistic. go crazy. >> reporter: and for every family watching tonight, we also learn what these parents never noticed. >> i couldn't believe what i was hearing. >> reporter: when we come back. mitzi: psoriatic arthritis tries to get in my way? watch me. ( ♪ ) mike: i've tried lots of things for my joint pain. now? watch me. ( ♪ ) joni: think i'd give up showing these guys how it's done? please. real people with active psoriatic arthritis are changing the way they fight it. they're moving forward with cosentyx. it's a different kind of targeted biologic.
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>> reporter: two mothers now trying to reconcile the little girls they raised with the 12-year-olds who brutally attacked their friend. ♪ >> morgan was a very happy child. she was intensely creative. she was always making up songs and stories. >> anissa did enjoy choir, she did enjoy singing. ♪ oh, bring back my
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bunny to me ♪ >> reporter: and only now do moments along the way seem to carry greater weight. morgan's mom telling me she remembers showing her daughter a movie, a children's classic. you were watching "bambi," and you noticed something. what was it? >> we had been concerned to show morgan the movie because we were afraid when bambi's mother died, she would be devastated, she would be very upset. she, in fact, had quite the opposite reaction. and after bambi's mother was shot, morgan just said, "run, bambi! run!" and had no reaction whatsoever to the mother dying. >> reporter: she wasn't at all concerned about the mom? >> no. no, not at all. >> reporter: and anissa's mom points to her daughter's childhood, and her struggle to fit in. >> looking back, anissa was never really invited to a lot of, like, birthday parties or
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anything. i don't think she really made friends that easy. >> reporter: which is why both mothers say they were happy when their two daughters met at the bus stop in middle school. >> morgan did endure a lot of bullying, especially in the sixth grade, by the other students. >> they knew what each other had gone through and they were going to be there for each other. >> what was anissa like? >> anissa was always extremely polite. >> you were witnessing what you thought was a very normal friendship? >> that's true, yes. >> reporter: it was a new friend for her daughter, morgan, who had already been friends with payton since the fourth grade, and their friendship seemed normal too. >> they were just typical giggly girls. >> reporter: payton's parents told us the same thing. >> were there ever any red flags? >> they would have arguments,
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but every 12-year-old girl has little arguments. >> reporter: payton's parents had never met anissa weier. but say that payton spoke of her at school. and they could never have imagined their daughter's friends were plotting against her and it turns out the horror in that woods -- was not the original plan for payton. >> morgan said that at her birthday party, while bella was sleeping, we were going to, like, duct tape her mouth shut, stab her in the neck and then leave. >> she would bleed out. they would cover her up with covers to make it look like she was sleeping and the two girls would run. >> reporter: but when they got home from skateland, the plan would change. >> i didn't think it would work. i didn't think any of this would work from the start. >> i wanted to give her at least one more morning. >> reporter: the next morning, a new plan. >> we're going to do it today at the park, that's what morgan said. >> reporter: as they leave for
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the park, anissa tells police that morgan lifts up her white jacket. the knife tucked in her waistband. >> what were you thinking? >> i'm thinking, dear god, this is really happening. >> reporter: morgan and anissa lead payton into a bathroom at the park. but one more time, they would change the plan. the girls leave that bathroom and walk down a nearby road. >> i pointed out the woods to morgan and said, "we should do it in there," so i told bella we were going to play hide and seek. >> payton remembers her two friends luring her in. >> they got to the park and they said, going to play hide and seek in the woods. she sensed it. >> she said she was forced to go. >> she was gonna hide one way
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one place, i was gonna hide and then morgan was going to do the stabbing. >> reporter: anissa tells police she sits on payton. payton says to her, i can't breathe. >> she gives you the knife. >> i give it back to her and say, you do it. just go ballistic. go crazy. >> what did she do then? >> stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, stab. >> reporter: payton is stabbed 19 times. stumbling, trying to get up. and listen to how anissa describes that moment. >> the whole time payton was screaming in agony. >> reporter: they would leave her right there. and has payton talked at all about the horror of that moment? >> we asked her what she remembered about what happened. and she said she remembered everything. >> do you know what happened to the knife after payton got stabbed? >> i put it back in the bag and walked. it was weird. i felt no remorse.
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>> morgan said, "it was weird that i didn't feel remorse." >> yeah. >> this was a girl who had been in your home many, many times. >> that was hard because i thought that she really cared about payton as a person, and they were good friends. >> do you know what happened to bella? is she dead? >> i don't know. she was taken to the hospital. >> i was just wondering. >> that's not my daughter saying those things. >> it was like looking at a different child? >> yes. she appears to have no remorse, and doesn't appear to be frightened. >> reporter: after hours of waiting, detectives finally reveal to angie what her daughter has done in the woods. could you believe what you were hearing? >> no, i couldn't believe what i was hearing, no. no. i never -- i never would have imagined that my daughter was capable of hurting another person. >> and not only was this hurting, it was, you know, multiple stabbings with the intent to kill.
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>> yes. >> reporter: when we come back, what these parents would learn about their own daughters. an extraordinarily rare diagnosis, and for parents watching across this country tonight, what are you to do when children are drawn in by someone or something that you never knew existed? >> anissa never talked about slender man to me. >> reporter: when we come back. you may be at increased risk for pneumococcal pneumonia, that can take you out of the game for weeks, even if you're healthy. pneumococcal pneumonia is a potentially serious bacterial lung disease that in severe cases can lead to hospitalization. it may hit quickly, without warning, causing you to miss out on the things you enjoy most. prevnar 13® is not a treatment for pneumococcal pneumonia... it's a vaccine you can get to help protect against it. prevnar 13® is approved for adults to help prevent infections from 13 strains of the bacteria that cause pneumococcal pneumonia. you should not receive prevnar 13® if you have had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine or its ingredients.
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>> reporter: for more than three years now, those two girls who confessed to brutally stabbing their 12-year-old friend have been locked up. their mothers still hope their daughters will one day come home. kristi weier's daughter, anissa, sits behind these walls at the washington county juvenile jail. and kristi shows us one of anissa's paintings. >> she is drawing flowers and sunshine and hearts. >> reporter: she tells us she had no idea her daughter had fallen so completely under slender man's spell. >> they did it to impress slender man. >> who is the shadowy figure? >> i was really scared. >> bill and i -- although we
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were divorced, we were still very active parents. i did search her ipad. i did watch over her shoulder. anissa never talked about slender man to me. >> reporter: and morgan was convinced slender man was real, too. >> who is this creepy guy that you were talking about? >> slender man. >> did you know anything about morgan's fascination with slender man? >> we did. and she would show us some of the pictures and she would read us some of the stories. >> did you ever think that this is a little too dark for my daughter? >> when i was morgan's age, i was reading stephen king novels, so i just thought it was normal for a child of middle school age to be interested in scary stories. >> reporter: and it turns out that payton who crawled out of those woods alive, had even told her mom that morgan thought slender man was real.
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did it give you pause? >> a little bit, but at the same time, these girls are 12 years old, and fantasy when you are 12 years old is still a very active part of your life. >> reporter: but their fantasy would give way to reality, and morgan and anissa now face charges of first degree intentional homicide. >> it wasn't until the following day, that we knew that she would be charged as an adult. >> when a child ten or older, commits a crime like this wisconsin law requires them to be charged in adult court. >> anthony cotton is morgan's attorney. was it clear to you she was struggling with mental illness? >> yeah, it was apparent right out of the gate. she'd be looking around the room. she'd looking in the corner. she seemed to be responding to things that weren't in the room. >> reporter: the girls are formally charged as adults, each facing the possibility of up to 65 years in prison. >> seeing her in the courtroom in the jumpsuit with the shackles really hit hard.
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>> reporter: morgan's and anissa's families launch a legal fight to get their daughters' cases moved from adult court to juvenile court. >> children's court is the right place for this case. >> reporter: it would mean more resources to help treat their mental health, but it also meant that each girl could be freed as soon as their 18th birthdays. something prosecutors would immediately fight. >> in spite of the fact that they were 12, these were two girls that made an extreme, serious effort to try to kill payton. >> reporter: after the brutal attack, investigators searching morgan's room would find disturbing evidence of a deteriorating young mind. dismembered barbies, drawings of slender man with children and pages and pages of messages that she had written to herself. we pour through those drawings with morgan's mother and find one of the darkest messages. >> how typical is it for a 12-year-old to write, i want to die? >> i don't think it's very typical at all. >> reporter: morgan also writes, help me escape my mind. >> this one makes me sad. >> why? >> just knowing how long she was
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sick and suffering inside her own head before we had any idea. >> reporter: while prosecutors build their case, two mothers visit their daughters behind bars weekly, sometimes daily. >> it's just her and i, divided by glass talking -- there are moments where my heart is so full of sadness that i don't -- and that's when i put on a mask i don't allow myself to break down in front of her and see how much this is hurting me. >> reporter: and morgan's mother tells me about the barrier between her and her daughter. and you would see her through the glass? >> yes. i mean, it was painful. we went months without being able to touch her. >> reporter: both families now say their daughters are trapped between adult and juvenile courts and on this day, we are
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at anissa's home when she calls to wish her sister a happy birthday. her father, bill, wearing a superman t-shirt. anissa still reveres her father to this day. >> hello? >> hello. >> how are you doing? >> pretty good. >> reporter: and then a song for her sister. ♪ happy birthday to you >> reporter: but as they sit behind bars, they are cut off from the resources typically available to treat children who commit crimes at such a young age. >> there's social workers, there's treatment professionals, as opposed to the adult system which is designed to be punitive. >> reporter: and while they are not treated for mental illness, they are given a court-ordered mental health evaluation and morgan who held the knife, who drew those pictures discovered in her bedroom, and who was unmoved by the movie "bambi" all those years ago, she would now receive an extraordinarily rare diagnosis for someone so young. early onset schizophrenia.
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were you surprised? >> no. um, i wasn't surprised simply because there is a family history of schizophrenia. >> her father? >> yes, her father has schizophrenia. >> reporter: in fact, morgan's father had been hospitalized at least four times as a teenager himself. >> was that one of the first things you thought of after the stabbings? >> it was. that she must be sick. >> reporter: but if morgan's father had a history of schizophrenia, we asked, did her parents look for warning signs along the way? >> i think it was something that had been building, that we both didn't notice and also attributed to the changes she was going through as an adolescent. >> do you feel responsible? >> i think on some level, i'll always feel responsible for not knowing that my daughter wasn't
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well. >> reporter: her daughter, morgan, would stay in that jail for a year and a half, untreated for mental illness. until a judge gets her moved to a mental health institution where she receives medication. >> and did you see a change? >> when she started medication? oh, yes, we saw a dramatic change. >> all rise! >> reporter: and after more than a year of hearings and evaluations, judge michael bohren makes his decision. on whether the children should remain charged as adults. >> it was premeditated attempt to kill someone. on that basis, and i'll order that the defendants, ms. geyser and ms. weier, be retained in the adult jurisdiction. >> they were just children. they weren't chronic offenders. >> reporter: when we come back, the families battle to save their daughters. to get them help. and to get them a chance to one day come home. but will they be sent away for
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years after what they did in the woods? their fates, revealed when we come back. (elevator speaker) going down. oh no. peter? it's kristy. camp jenkins? maybe this will jog your memory. alexa, play "my funky place." (alexa) playing your music. remember our dance? ♪ ♪ yeah, i'm not peter. alexa, note to self. take the stairs next time. get a free moto mod with amazon alexa when you buy a moto z2. available at major carriers. when you buy a moto z2. depression is a tangle that can make you sad, feel tired, and have difficulty concentrating. trintellix is a prescription medication for depression. it may help you take a step forward in improving your depression. tell your healthcare professional right away if your depression worsens,
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and now you can stay steps away from the magic for less. save up to 25% on select rooms at a disneyland resort hotel. so now's the time to get more happy! >> reporter: it has been more than three years now since that horror in the woods in waukesha, wisconsin, and now a community torn. as brutal as the attack was, what do you with two girls who were just 12 years old when they
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did it? morgan geyser and anissa weier are now preparing to be tried as adults, facing the possibility of decades in prison. >> i mean, to me, it's unthinkable to try a 12-year-old child as an adult, regardless of what they've done. >> you know there are some who will say she planned it and look what she did. >> i don't think that any of that changes the fact that she was a child. we do everything else possible in our society to protect our children from themselves. for some reason, we view that differently within the criminal justice system, and that just doesn't make sense to me. >> reporter: both girls plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. the girls will be tried separately. anissa's case is first. and just days before her trial, she strikes a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to a lesser charge of attempted second degree intentional homicide. >> anissa took the plea deal. it was her decision to plead
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guilty to save payton from reliving that day. >> reporter: but as part of that deal, anissa will now stand trial so a jury can determine if she should be sent to prison or to a state mental institution instead. >> the evidence will show. >> reporter: now 15 years old, walking into court -- >> all rise. >> reporter: anissa's attorney joe smith, acknowledges she attacked her friend, but argues she is not criminally responsible because she was under the spell of a delusion. the prosecution paints a starkly different picture of a calculating 12-year-old. >> she knew what she was doing was wrong. >> reporter: the defense calls family members, friends, teachers to the stand to testify that they never knew anissa was struggling with mental illness. >> i do. >> reporter: starting with her father bill. >> was there any time where she expressed that she had seen things? >> there was an episode when anissa was about 10. she had gone to bed for the night. she saw something in her closet
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looking at her. so, you know, 10-year-old, monster in the closet. we turned the lights on, we opened the closet, nothing's in there. i didn't give it any more credit than that. >> reporter: but it would turn out the centerpiece of anissa's defense would be testimony from three mental health experts. have you ever seen a case like this before? >> no, it's almost unfathomable that this could happen. >> reporter: dr. melissa westendorf was one of the court appointed forensic psychologists who evaluated anissa. >> what they had in common was the delusion about slender man. >> neither family knew that their daughters were mentally ill. is that difficult for you to believe? >> no. >> that it would go unnoticed? >> it can go unnoticed. you know, especially with delusions. delusions can remain, compartmentalized, for people. >> reporter: and it was morgan's mother angie who told us she believes her daughter actively hid her delusions from those
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around her. >> i think that, as she got older, and she realized that hey, maybe this isn't normal, that she did make a conscious effort to hide it. a lot of her hallucinations were friends to her, and i don't think that she wanted to lose those friends. >> reporter: and dr. westendorf says there also may have been something uniquely compelling, to these already vulnerable minds of morgan and anissa, about the way slender man is presented online. >> once you find this character on the internet, you can read all these stories that look real. >> reporter: and the doctor says with anissa, there was something different at play. remember, it was morgan who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. dr. westendorf then diagnosed anissa with what's called a "shared psychotic disorder." saying that with morgan's schizophrenia, when paired with both of their delusions about
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slender man, would create a perfect storm, luring anissa in too. a lot of parents will say, "my 12-year-old knows the difference between right and wrong. they would know that it's wrong to stab your friend 19 times in the woods." how did they not know this? >> they appreciated that what they were doing was wrong. >> so, if they knew it was wrong, why do it? >> because their belief in slender man was so powerful and was so strong, they believe that if they did not fulfill their plan, slender man was going to come back and kill their families. >> reporter: dr. westendorf testified that, because anissa's mental disorder led to her actions that day in the woods, that she should not be held criminally responsible. prosecutors disagreed. >> all the psychiatrists were saying the same thing, which is they had this shared delusion and that compulsion was, "if we don't kill payton, then slender man is going to either kill us or our families." and what we argued repeatedly was anissa, by her own words, said she didn't even know that
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slender man was a threat till after the act was over. >> the silly thing about this was i didn't know i was in danger until -- after. >> reporter: the case goes to the jury. the seven men and five women deliberate for 11 hours before as they file in we see anissa visibly shaking. >> anissa weier was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. with that, i will order that she be committed to the department of health services. >> their decision was humane. >> reporter: but her daughter's sentencing was yet to come, and given the jury's decision in anissa's trial, prosecutors now allowed morgan to plead guilty too. her family awaiting sentencing as well. >> she's sick, and she belongs in a mental health facility as opposed to a prison. >> reporter: at her plea hearing morgan is required to tell the judge what she did. >> what did you do on may 31, 2014?
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>> i hurt bella. >> all right, so, what did you do? [ crying ] >> i came up from behind her and i jumped on her. >> and then what happened? >> and then i stabbed her. back -- a judge's decision. how long will morgan and anissa be sent away for? or will they be allowed to go home? and that remarkable little girl who crawled out of the woods determined to live. how is she doing now, more than three years after we first met her? it's league night!? 'saved money on motorcycle insurance with geico! goin' up the country. bowl without me. frank.' i'm going to get nachos. snack bar's closed.
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>> reporter: it was just this month the final sentence in a case that began with a sleepover more than three years ago. morgan geyser is about to learn her fate. it was just weeks ago that anissa's sentencing came first. >> the case is here today -- >> reporter: the judge ordering her to a state mental facility for up to 25 years. anissa will now be under state supervision until she is 37 years old. >> my fear is she will not really know how to interact with normal people at walmart, at the gas station, at pick 'n save. after spending 25 years in a
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mental institution. >> reporter: and before morgan's mother would learn her own daughter's fate, she shares with me a letter that her daughter has now written to payton. >> "dear bella, i wish i had words that could make everything better, but i don't. so all i can say is how sorry i am. i can promise you, not a day will go by that i don't regret what i did. stay strong, morgan." >> reporter: just this month, a judge decided that morgan will also be sent to a state mental health facility for up to 40 years. it was more than three years ago we first met payton. shy in front of the cameras, we did see a glimpse of her smile returning, as she shared with us her love of kittens. and of family. >> she's doing well in school. she has friends. she's social.
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>> reporter: payton's mother sending us a message for any family dealing with the kind of pain and horror they have faced. "if you trust in your strength and believe in your resiliency you will get through this." and tonight, the new images of payton. earlier this week, she celebrated a milestone. turning 16, a milestone morgan geyser will soon reach as well. it's not where you pictured her turning 16. >> no, i see on social media, my friends and family who have children morgan's age, and they'll post pictures of them driving a car, going to homecoming. you know, it's difficult. >> reporter: and now, after learning morgan's fate, her mother says life for all three families has changed forever. >> we're leaving waukesha. >> reporter: why?
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>> for a new start. i frequently drive by these places that hold horrible memories. and i just want to get us all away from that. >> reporter: away from those woods that have since been cleared to make way for a new residential development. the scene of that horror now erased, but for those three families tonight, they will never be able to erase the pain. quick thinking and heroic action. how one woman's bravery saved a
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