DOCUMENT: Internet, Crime

The Real-Life Tumult Of An Online Meme

Records detail police contact with "Jessi Slaughter"

Jessi Slaughter

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Jessi Slaughter Docs

JULY 7--As prosecutors prepare to try the father of "Jessi Slaughter" for assaulting his daughter, police records provide a glimpse at the real-life tumult triggered by the underage Internet meme’s online activities.

In February, Gene Leonhardt, 53, was arrested for striking his 12-year-old daughter, who told Florida police that she had been arguing with her father when he “punched her, causing her to have a bloody and swollen lips.” Leonhardt, pictured at right, is scheduled to appear next week in Circuit Court for a status conference on his felony case.

Marion County Sheriff’s Office records show that deputies first contacted the girl--who used the "Slaughter" alias online--and her parents last year after learning that she may have posted a topless photo of herself online. During an initial “well-being check,” Leonhardt claimed that “someone had photo-shopped his daughter’s head onto someone else’s body.”

When an anonymous caller contacted cops to say that the girl was on various web sites, including 4chan, “advising she had nude photographs of herself,” police again visited her home. Her parents, who said they had received numerous threatening phone calls, told a cop that their daughter claimed that “someone must have hacked in to their computer and put all this information on the web about her.” A deputy, though, explained that the girl “is on several websites and advised them some of the material relating to their daughter is of a sexual nature.”

One sheriff’s report indicates that a local police chief told of receiving several e-mails from individuals concerned about the girl. Additionally, the chief noted that her department had “worked several calls” relating to bogus orders being placed at Pizza Hut for delivery to the child’s home. The orders totaled about $2800.

When a child welfare worker visited the Leonhardt home with a cop, the girl became irate and “threw a temper tantrum” after they suggested the juvenile’s access to the Internet be terminated. If that occurred, the girl said, “she will lose her fame, and that she will get to the Internet one way or another.” Before threatening to “stick a butcher knife in the DCF worker’s ass,” the girl claimed that, “if she does not get on the Internet, she has nothing else to live for,” a deputy noted.

The child’s parents, the deputy stated, “were catering to the juvenile as if she had done nothing wrong,” despite the fact that the girl has posted photos of herself posing in “provocative positions.” The girl herself told an investigator that, “the most important thing in her life at this time is to make number one on some list on which she is currently 67 out of 100, and that her main goal is to be famous on the Internet, and for her name to be a household name throughout the country.”

The child’s quest for online fame drew the scorn of 4chan visitors who targeted her for the kind of bullying and retribution for which the anarchic site is known. In response to that harassment campaign, the girl filmed a teary response video that included a cameo by her unhinged father. Yelling, Leonhardt warned trolls that “you done goofed,” and that he had reported them “to the cyberpolice.” He added that, “Consequences will never be the same.”

The girl’s online notoriety, records show, resulted in a bomb scare at her school, when a box addressed to her was delivered to the principal’s office. The bomb squad determined that the package “only contained other Postal Service boxes.”  

In early-February, deputies again responded to the girl’s home after receiving an anonymous complaint that she had posted a Facebook message claiming to have overdosed on medications.

A sheriff’s deputy was met at the front door by Leonhardt, who was “screaming and yelling” at the investigator. “I was told by your supervisors you guys would not be out here anymore investigating anonymous complaints.” The girl’s mother also appeared “and began yelling” that the deputy “had no right being at their residence.”

When questioned, the girl said that she was “feeling suicidal at the time and depressed but I’m not now.” One of her parents then said, “See it was a mistake and you’re out here for no reason,” before shutting the door.

Despite that reassurance, deputies took custody of the girl pursuant to the state’s Baker Act, which allows for the involuntary examination of someone who has threatened to harm themselves. This triggered one of the girl’s parents to begin yelling, “I want that female officer’s name because I’m putting in a formal complaint against her. I want her job.” The child was eventually returned to her family after it was determined that she did not intend to harm herself.

A week later, on February 17, Leonhardt was arrested for allegedly punching his daughter in the mouth during an argument at their Dunnellon home. A deputy reported that the girl had “bloody and swollen lips” and minor cuts inside her mouth. Leonhardt told cops that he “slapped” the child after she punched him in the mouth. He also claimed his daughter was wearing “theatrical blood.” (7 pages)