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Wisconsin Teen Stabbed 19 Times By Classmates Is a Survivor, Not a Victim, Says Friend

Five years after Payton Leutner was nearly stabbed to death, the high school senior is thriving and preparing for college

By Elaine Aradillas October 25, 2019 02:59 PM

It has been five years since Payton Leutner was nearly stabbed to death, but now she is prepared to show everyone she’s a survivor.

Payton was 12 years old when two of her classmates lured her into a wooded area in Waukesha, Wisc., after a sleepover and stabbed her 19 times in the name of “Slenderman,” a fictional character in online horror stories. Determined to live, Payton managed to crawl to a nearby bike path where a passerby found her and called 911.

“She’s gone from a 12-year-old victim of a horrific crime to a 17-year-old survivor,” Steve Lyons, president of SJL Government Affairs and Communication and spokesperson for the Leutner family, tells PEOPLE. “She has the world in front of her and it’s amazing to see her blossom.”

After her attack, Payton has kept a low profile as she navigates through high school like any other teen. She’s in AP classes, studied French and even took a trip to Canada with her school’s French Club. Now, she’s an honor student sifting through college offers, Lyons says.

Tonight, Payton will speak about the May 31, 2014, stabbing with ABC anchor David Muir on 20/20, discussing her recovery and how her scars have shaped her into the person she is today.

The two-hour 20/20 special — airing tonight on ABC at 9 p.m. ET — delves into the shocking actions of Morgan Geyser, her friend who, along with Anissa Weier, said they were prompted to try to kill Payton because they were servants of  “Slenderman.”

In 2017, Geyser pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree homicide as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to 40 years in a mental health facility. That same year, Weier pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree homicide and was sentenced to 25 years in a mental health facility.

The attempted murder of Payton and the investigation around it became the subject of the HBO documentary Beware the SlendermanA subsequent feature film about the case was made, starring Joey King.

Payton, now 17, tells Muir about her physical scars, saying that they are now “just a part of me. I don’t think much of them. They will probably go away and fade eventually.”

Lyons says Payton is a bright and charming girl ready to show everyone how she overcame a horrific tragedy.

“This story is about good triumphing over evil,” he says. “You read about this in stories, but this is real life.”

Michelle Berryman