Neighbours of two U.S. girls accused of stabbing a friend nearly to death say they're struggling to reconcile the allegations with what they know about the 12-year-olds and their upbringings.
Prosecutors have charged the two girls in adult court with attempted homicide for allegedly stabbing a girl the same age in the woods in northern Wisconsin state. The girls told detectives they conspired for months to kill the other girl in hopes of pleasing Slender Man, a fictional character they read about on a horror website.
Most residents in their neighbourhood didn't want to talk to reporters Tuesday. They said they were still trying to wrap their minds around the allegations. But neighbours who did agree to talk said the girls came from good families and that the parents were responsible guardians who doted on their children.
Emily Edwards, 15, baby-sat one of the girls for about two years. She told The Associated Press the girl seemed to be a well-adjusted child who was never mean or violent. She said the girl never even picked on her younger brother, and if anything acted as a peacekeeper whenever others teased him.
"She was completely normal, nothing off about her. She was very social, friendly, outgoing," Emily said, "which is what makes this whole thing so weird."
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Prosecutors say the two girls lured the victim into the woods Saturday and stabbed her 19 times, with one of the wounds coming within a millimeter of piercing a major artery near her heart.
Parents 'such nice people'
The AP isn't naming either girl because their cases could end up in juvenile court, where proceedings are closed to the public. The victim is identified in court documents only by her initials.
Emily said that as far as the girl she baby-sat, she often saw her family laughing and smiling together. She described the girl's parents as "such nice people" who seem devoted to their two kids.
Paul Plotkin, another neighbour close to the father of one of the girls, said he was troubled by comments he's seen online suggesting the parents must have been absent, negligent, addicted to drugs or worse.
"Anyone who knows them knows these are good people, a normal middle-class family," said Plotkin, 44. "It just goes to show, no matter how hard you try to instil good morals, good values, things can still go wrong."
The two girls live in the same apartment complex, which has about a dozen buildings scattered in an open layout with leafy trees.
The other girl's family posted a note on their front door asking reporters to respect their privacy.
Anthony Cotton, an attorney for one of the girls, said he would push to get her case transferred to juvenile court, where more social services and mental health treatment would be available.
"She's 12 and she has mental health issues," Cotton said. "There's no question that she needs to go to the hospital."