Why My Daughter Will Never Have A Webcam: The Jessi Slaughter Story

**Warning: This article contains some adult themes and language**

In 1992, when I was 13 years old, my parents put a lock on my bedroom door. I was a good kid by all accounts and truthfully, the possible horrific scenarios in my new fortress of childhood were minimal and hardly catastrophic, so looking back I fully understand the liberal thought process of my mother and father. While some kids may have seen this as an opportunity to smoke pot (I never did) or worship Satan (I never did, although I did hang up a Jose Canseco poster), I basically just saw it as an opportunity to masturbate (I always did). Pretty harmless stuff. And now I could do it in private. (No more public masturbation!)

It’s now 2011; I’m 31 years old and have just hit the one-year mark in my current relationship. Most of my friends are married and a number of them have children. As I approach the part of my life that I can no longer deny is “marrying age” (no more public masturbation!), the idea of re-producing is fresh on my mind. And I have to be honest: I don’t think I’m going to have kids… and the main reason might be the webcam.

When my parents put that lock on my door, allowing me to explore my body, the Internet was just a whimsical idea set public in Matthew Broderick’s somewhat forgettable War Games. The World Wide Web didn’t exist and the possibilities of ruining my life in front of millions of people were minimal. In short, Jessi Slaughter didn’t exist yet.

Born Jessica Leonhardt, Jessi Slaughter is the name the Florida resident took on when she signed up to start posting videos on YouTube at 11 years old. Jessi crafted the persona posting on her favorite band message boards (like an electro group called Blood On The Dance Floor that I’ve never heard of because I’m ancient) and recording videos from her bedroom. What started as somewhat innocent behavior from a quirky little girl and resulting attention from viewers who found her ridiculous quickly developed into undeniably egocentric teenage behavior, clips of attention-seeking rants and rumors of sexual behavior.

Before every kid’s lives developed solely on the Internet, we just called that “gossip”. Her spiral into responding to “haters” and her growing addiction to any attention became humorous fodder for the Internet masses and a favorite punching bag for websites like 4Chan and StickyDrama. But it was when someone posted an accusation that Jessi had sex with the over-18 Blood On The Dance Floor’s lead singer that she became Internet folklore, because she posted this NSFW video that didn’t necessarily proclaim the singer’s innocence.

While spewing a diatribe to the “hater bitches”, she drops gems like “pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushee” (which by the way would make a kinda awesome Lil’ Wayne lyric) and “Suck my non-existent penis,” Jessi basically took an African safari tour while wearing a pant-suit made of raw steaks and to no surprise, the Internet attacked. Intellectual observations like “You’re ugly” and “You’re stupid” served as comments on every blog and website that posted her videos. And rather than ignore the cyber-bullying comments and go back to being an 11-year-old, Jessi fueled the fire, responding to ever faceless commenter, who ignored that behind the aggressive YouTube postings was a crying pre-teen being called names at the most fragile part of her life. And then she posted new videos that not only exposed that crying pre-teen but also introduced us to her father and a few sayings that will forever have a place in the Internet meme Hall Of Fame.

In the surreal video’s aftermath, anonymous postings of her phone number, address and Twitter account ran rampant as the views reached 1,000,000. The prank calls and bullying emails were endless, once in the form of $3,000 worth of pizzas being delivered to her house. Her family was blindsided by hatred usually reserved for child molesters, relatives of Adolph Hitler or Jose Canseco. Her parents alerted the authorities of the death threats they were receiving, which in turn became an investigation into her father’s rage and the accusations of Jessi posting child pornography of herself online. Her school even had a bomb scare, which resulted in Jessi posting cryptically suicidal messages on her Facebook, leading police to her house again. When officers arrived, Jessi had calmed down but officers did report that Jessi said without being on the Internet, she had “nothing to live for”.

All she had to do was turn off the computer and yet she couldn’t. As her father’s quotes like “consequences will never be the same” or “I backtraced it” were recited like Beatles lyrics and the hatred multiplied, she continued to post videos, falling deeper into an attention starved black pit, even changing her YouTube account and starting a Tumblr blog when her parents and police erased her old screen name.

Techno remixes of her mental breakdowns scattered the Internet, as did recorded prank calls to her mother, as Jessi was quoted on saying “any type of fame, I’ll take”. Ridiculous rumors of her father giving her PCP or her parents molesting her started to spread and ABC News picked up the story as a feature on “cyber-bullying”. Her local police department constantly surveyed her house and continued their investigation into the actions of the actual family. When the cops threatened to discontinue Internet service in her house, she threw a temper tantrum screaming she would lose her fame and threatened to stick “a butcher knife in the [officer’s] ass”.

Obviously, Jessi continued to be on the Internet 24/7 chatting and posting videos despite the fact that every action the family took was now under investigation for possible criminal charges. Jessi became the Internet’s version of a drug addict whose fix was ingested through broadband. Hungry viewers even saw a family meltdown occur in the background of a Tinychat session, where her father screamed “the Internet is what got us where we are” after he attempted to unplug her computer and she lied about broadcasting live. As you can see below, this chat may have changed everything, as it alludes to the fact that some very serious abuse started to take place in her house.

And with that, Jessi’s father Gene Leonhardt was arrested for felony child abuse in early 2011 for slapping Jessi during an argument, leaving the now 12-year-old with a bloody mouth. Reports say that Gene was also most likely drunk during the incident. Jessi’s videos abruptly ended and the “any type of fame” that she wanted disappeared as quickly as it came. The Internet focused on other memes like Rebecca Black or Nyan Cat as the silence alluded to more serious problems for the young Slaughter and things got too sad for “LOL”.

On the morning of August 6th, 2011, Jessi Slaughter, addressing herself with the name Jessica Rose, posted her first video in months on the account of what seems to be a classmate. Addressing the video to members of her favorite band (still alarming) Blood on the Dance Floor and their “spectrum”, Jessica explains, in a calmer manner that seems slightly inspired by Lexapro, that she has been locked up in many mental institutions and is now in foster care. Jessica, who looks healthier and more in control, apologizes to the band for the allegations and for “everything I’ve done”. She admits that she now has no computer privileges but professes her love for her “idols”, the member of BOTDF and doesn’t mention her family once. Later that day, Jessica’s father died of a heart attack at 53 years old while awaiting his upcoming trial. His death was announced on many of the same sites that followed the madness of Jessi Slaughter but this time there were only 4 comments – 2 were genuine, 2 were snarky.

When analyzing Jessi Slaughter it’s easy to become lost in her mesmerizing and insane YouTube videos employing a drawl like Alicia Silverstone’s character in Clueless on Sizzurp or scoff at the idea that an 11-year may have been advertising (or posting) “n00d” pics of herself on MySpace. I admit that wholeheartedly. But please let’s not forget, she was an 11 year-old girl. If I had a YouTube account in 1992, the inevitable video of me rapping MC Skat Kat’s part in ‘Opposites Attract’ in my locked bedroom may have just ended up with 3 million views and changed my whole life. Call Jessi’s videos whatever you want, but they were genuine, naïve and innocent, all from a girl who obviously had mental issues and needed some parental help that extended beyond the abilities of her mom and dad.

Jessica is now part of a foster care system riddled with issues and lack of funding, with a dead father and what seems to be an incapable mother. I wish I could end the article with some sort of snappy sentence saying that without this family’s exploitation on the Internet, life would be great for the teenager, but I can’t. It’s possible, and somewhat likely, that this family – especially the mentally unstable Jessica – would have run into problems no matter if War Games was released in theaters or not. I can’t blame everything on Jessica’s webcam but I’ve seen Gwyneth in Sliding Doors enough to know things could’ve been different. Most teenagers in my high school wouldn’t have used that bedroom door lock as innocently as I did. Most ran into some issues, mentally and criminally, during puberty and most survived that phase, s**ty parenting or addiction, living comfortably in their 30s. I can’t imagine results like that are possible with millions of people watching, commenting and making jokes.

In the end, I’ll probably have children, mostly because everyone does and I’m egotistical enough to convince myself to create a little me. Do I think I’ll be a better father than Gene Leonhardt and make sure my female offspring are lead to the Slaughter (no disrespect to the departed)? Yes. But I also realize that every confused and still growing 11-year old girl is one viral video away from her whole family appearing on an episode of Maury. I will continue to think good thoughts for Jessica, since we can all agree she is a victim of bad parenting, addiction and the Internet era. Jessica, like my eventual daughter, should have never had a webcam, and most likely should’ve had a lock on her door, because like my parents believed, some parts of your childhood need to stay private.

Featured image by Logan Fitzpatrick

  • http://www.facebook.com/jocelynplease Jocelyn Dugan

    You’re ancient? I’ve never even heard of this girl. All I can say is, “Jesus and the Mother of God, wtf.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001995952321 Ana Marie

    oof… a punch to the gut… A piece though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/NefariousNewt Nefarious Newt

    I have been an avid hawk when it comes to the Internet and my children, making it nigh impossible for them to have access that I could not control, until the inevitable gifts of iPod Touches and Android phones and laptops/netbooks. Even my 6-year-old daughter has an iPod Touch and is an avid follower of iCarly. The world I knew, a world where humanity had first set foot on the Moon, where the phone had bells and clunky buttons and was bolted to the wall, and I got to watch three TV channels (four on a clear enough day) that came in to my TV through the air is now the stuff of “get off my lawn!” memory. The pitfalls and traps for unwary children are not longer out there, beyond the front door, but have been invited in my house to sit down, have tea with us, and case the joint. I’m not as worried about my daughter being grabbed by a stranger off the street as I am having her mind grabbed by a YouTube video or a blog post. The damage is no longer easily visible; unbidden thoughts and radical agendas are poured onto the retinas of our youth like a waterfall plunging onto rocks, eroding away the tiny children we knew and turning them into angsty teens before they even hit double digits. This story is all the more frightening because unlike a substance, the Internet is a cloying, mesmerizing, ubiquitous thing that even we parents have our dalliances with to our detriment. I can no more turn it off for myself, than banish it from my children’s lives. If this story is not repeated, the story will be repeated in another house, and another, and more and more fragile families will be dashed against Scylla or Charybdis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.dizzydaydreamer Presley Lynne

    Wow, this article really made me think. I think a lot of my generation have put horrible stains on our life due to the internet. The upcoming generations are taking it to a whole new level. I hope more people read this, so they can also think about what’s going on here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BookWyrm1025 Sonya Smith

    all I can say is educate educate educate!!! dont try to hide things from your kids, arm them with knowledge. And even if you think they are too young, they arent and will be learning it elsewhere, trust me. Even before my daughter started kindergarten, she was on the computer. There were many and still are many great kids learning websites. I was obviously there the whole time spending time with my daughter and sharing those experiences with her, but I knew that I wouldnt always. So while we were playing, I would talk to her about safe ways to play, the info never ever to share and to be aware of what else you might be sharing. no pics to anyone but friends etc and be aware of ur background. My daughter is now 17 and I cont to have talks with her about content and ppl that r ok. Dialogue never ends.

  • http://www.facebook.com/flynnface Victoria Flynn

    I don’t even know how to use my webcam let alone ruin my life with it! But I completely agree, when my children are 11 they’ll be playing on pogo sticks and barbie rollerskates. Not advertising themselves on the internet!
    I think this article is really impressive by the way and I admire your ability to speak so sensitively about the subject, whereas others would have easily branded Jessi a freak and made fun of her. I hope she ends up alright in her life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/valerie.huerta1 Valerie Yvonne Huerta

    I’m speechless. This is sad….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1076778955 Sharon Friedman Sweeney

    I wasn’t familiar with this story at all (and I’m also 31), but wow….that was sobering. What an awful situation. It almost sounds like a Lifetime MotW, except your version is so well-written.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peevska Mon Peevska

    I am 18 now. I’ve always had freedom. My mother believes I shouldn’t be stopped from anything. Result .. Well I’m tattood , a smoker since the age of 15, lost my virginity at 14, smoke weed , been drinking since 12. But you know what… So do my friends , who have all the parental control needed and some extra. That girl’s story is sad,really,but it’s all her fault and not her parents’. Because mine too have no idea what I do with my own password protecred laptop *that has a webcam*. And I’ve done many stupid things. And I’ll probably do many more. But I have my head on my shoulders and when I had my tatoo – i checked the place to see if its clean; when I had sex at 14 I made sure we used a condom ; when I smoke I take into consideration how dangerous that is… We all make stupid things, my generation has different view of whats right and whats wrong. And no matter how hard they try,if parents have a child that wants to post videos or do whatever…well they cant stop her. All they can is explain and try to talk. That girl ruined her life. And ruined her parents’ lives too. It has nothing to do with whether she should have had a webcam or not…Never were.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AprilcMcLean April McLean

    Honestly, I just wanna hold this poor little girl and let her know she is loved, with or without the internet. Poor thing is so confused and led astray from whats really important. :/

  • http://www.facebook.com/jakefogelnest Jake Fogelnest

    Terrific job, Jensen. I posted some comments and a video on my blog:


    Here’s the text of what it says (without the video):

    Jensen’s recent Hello Giggles article on Jessi Slaughter made me think of this insane moment that happened during the chaos last year: Jessi Slaughter explaining who I was to her Father in a TinyChat room.

    The last line of the video: “Watch what pictures you put on.”

    Watching everything that went down with Jessica was as heartbreaking as it was at times, hilarious. Funny as it all may have been, at its core was a very troubled eleven year-old girl. That’s what I always kept coming back to throughout the various image macros and video remixes. Having caught the thing from the start, the very first “Stickydrama” post, it was surreal to watch it all unfold. Especially when it ended up on “Good Morning America.”

    Thankfully, Stickydrama doesn’t exist anymore. Say what you will about 4chan, but its intentions are not based in pure evil in the way that Stickydrama was. Adrian Chen did a fantastic job of exposing the creepazoid behind that site, leading to his eventual retirement.

    I am deeply saddened “Jessi Slaughter” lost her Father. I’m sad that her home situation was so chaotic that she was put into the foster care system. I’m sad there was no one her life to let her know that she had the power within her to just turn off the computer. I’m mostly sad about the seemingly growing generation of kids out there looking to fill the void with fame at whatever cost. But we can’t stop the Kim Kardashian’s of the world. Hell, we can hardly even keep up with them.

    In the end, Gene Leonhardt was right: “Consequences will never be the same.”

    For 60 Minutes, I’m Lesley Stahl.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steveguttenberg Jensen Karp

    Thanks to everyone for reading this and for chiming in on a story that has affected me greatly since the news of her father’s passing.

    Although I do agree that many people can experiment or utilize the Internet frequently at a young age and make it out without having a Hello Giggles article about you (Mon, you do seem to have utilized “live and learn” in a way that even I’m jealous of), we have to admit that not every young kid has that ability. Part of growing up is making mistakes and acting stupid. This being said, I was insanely sheltered and did almost nothing to make my parents upset. Mostly because I’ve been neurotic since I can remember and just didn’t want to make my parents, who I loved, mad. Just wasn’t part of my genes.

    But some other genes we do know exist involve addiction. If Jessi didn’t have the Internet, it could’ve been anything else, as she seems to be, from an outside point of view, an addict. I think my point of view really rests in the speed in which this instance, and any future instance where the Internet can pointed to as the source of breakdown, happened. There seemed to be really no moment for this young, lost girl to stand back up. Like a boxing match, where one fighter has been knocked out and an opponent runs over and hits him again during the referee’s 10 count. Kids deserve that 10 count, and as a 31-year old, I just don’t see that anymore, and Jessi’s story is a pretty good example.

    Sonya – I do agree that open communication and dialogue are key. Without the “DON’T DO THIS,” because that will cause rebellion, but dealing with these issues as almost a peer seems to be a key to minimizing the risks. But I also agree with Mon that they’ll probably find a way no matter what. And this my friends, is why I’m on the fence about having kids.

    I’ll be checking back throughout the night, and am totally willing to talk more about this with anybody.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marcelle.karp Marcelle Karp

      Jensen, one of the things I know so far about parenting is that a child must know that someone has her/his back. And Jessie clearly didn’t have that in her day-to-day real life. Thank you so much for writing about this and for posting it here at HG.

      Also, you have a good last name.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steveguttenberg Jensen Karp

    And please do watch Jake’s video above. While doing research I did see Jake’s name (who is a friend of mine) pop up in videos of chat rooms and such during Jessi’s public meltdown. He knows a lot firsthand, and was even talked about by Jessi’s Dad (in a sweet way as Jake is not a jerk). Also, you should just know about Jake, cause he knows everything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamison.ryan Jamison Ryan

    “You done goofed!” I know this phrase without even knowing why or where I saw it. Fame> what you get is no tomorrow… Another random phrase stuck in my mind. Why didn’t he slap the webcam instead of his daughter? It was all the webcam’s fault. The All Seeing Eye. It is on our dollar bill and in Orwell’s 1984. Tune out; turn off…. But I posted this, didn’t I? I must be an addict.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513458955 Kaitlyn Shore

    I guess with the internet being where it’s at, it’s true, consequences will never be the same.
    In all seriousness, thank you for writing this article. I didn’t know the background of Jessi Slaughter and I really hope she’s doing ok.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cupcakesworld Kit Sandy Atwater

    a little confused; and not enjoying the statement(s) that she had ‘bad parents’ Really? you know this? You’re Sure? Sounds rather snarky to me. Not impressed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jakefogelnest Jake Fogelnest

      Here’s an interview with Jessi’s Mom published during the height of this insanity. Sort of speaks for itself:


    • http://www.facebook.com/jakefogelnest Jake Fogelnest

      Also here’s a CNN phone interview with Jessi’s Mom: http://youtu.be/y_G0t-tGn0w

    • http://www.facebook.com/steveguttenberg Jensen Karp

      Yes, we know she had bad parents for two reasons.

      1. There is no excuse to hit your daughter. Ever. Or even just a woman in general, but thats another article. And her father did hit her. He admitted that eventually. That’s enough to say that for him.

      2. Her mother was found legally unable to take care of her daughter, so Jessica is now in foster care. I believe allowing that to happen to your child, with the unwritten contract you sign to always protect them, makes you a bad mother. Not snarky, just based on legality and moral responsibility.

      Once she was put on foster care, they technically weren’t even “parents” anymore.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.mccardle Wendy McCardle

    If you think this is frightening, read the story of Kiki Kannibal, who unfortunately does not have parents of sound mind to pull the plug when necessary: http://bit.ly/f66wRj

    There are many horrifying things about Jessi and Kiki’s stories, but one I found particularly saddening about Kiki was that here is a young girl, who is picked on relentlessly at school but mistakenly thought she could seek refuge in an internet alias.

    Jensen, I am the same age as you and I can remember my parents being hyper paranoid about my photo running in our small-town newspaper if I made the honor roll that semester. Our town had a plague of predators who would keep clippings of photos of young girls who appeared in the newspaper. Along with the white pages (imagine that), some of these girls were tracked down and harassed, but sometimes it was much worse. In this day of rampant social networking and internet self promotion, where the ability to share so much of yourself is possible on an even grander scale than the weekly “Good Student” column in the Penny Pincher, how challenging it must be to raise a child who doesn’t feel the urge to fire up that webcam and create a whole new persona.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steveguttenberg Jensen Karp

      Wendy, thank you for the Kiki article. I didn’t know about her story at all, and am bewildered that she just can’t get off the Internet, even after experiencing something that has destroyed her family’s life (not that I feel bad for her parents really).

      It’s late, so I don’t know if I’m wording it right, but it just seems each of these stories have a few turns that the girls made that just wouldn’t have happened with more supervision or a more stern response from their parents.

      Kiki’s “artistic” bra video should’ve ended it all, but truth is, all the warning signs of your tween dating an insane adult even earlier should’ve been the last straw. No matter how good our parents were at giving me guilt, or keeping you out of the local paper, imagine what would’ve happened to us if this happened in our house? For Jessi, it seems to be that her parents NEVER thought it was Jessi’s fault, when some many times it was.

      And I agree. I can not imagine what has to be supervised to maintain a healthy child. It does not seem easy. But I know in both Jessi and KiKi’s lives, there were real life signs, people/situations right in their parents’ faces that would’ve been major foot-down moments in my household, and will be in my eventual household (if there is one).

      Again, thank you for that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jakefogelnest Jake Fogelnest

      Oh god, Kiki. :( I blogged about that one too: http://jakefogelnest.com/post/4697428690/kiki

      In fact, weirdly enough the writer of that Rolling Stone story did a piece on me when I was seventeen.

      Another “star” made by the thankfully no longer functioning Stickydrama. I posted a few comments over at that Rolling Stone article (before they finally wisely shut them off). It was met with of course someone going to the trouble of creating a fake Facebook account with my name and adding their own hateful comments AS me. Naturally I just started writing crazier and crazier things until it became unclear which person was the fake me and which one was real.

      There is a LiveJournal community “Efagz” which is devoted to “snarking” on these “internet famous” kids. It’s perhaps the most depressing thing you’ll ever find yourself reading online. The kids striving for internet fame are equally depressing as the ones making fun of them. Levels upon levels of barf-o-rama sadness.

      Let’s all just try to focus on the good things. Like the awesome things Ruby writes here on Hello Giggles!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=694508013 Megan Mohler

    wow I had no idea about any of this and just spent a good hour watching all these videos. so incredibly sad it turned out this way..

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennyftw Jenny Lazo

    i’ve never heard of this girl before, but this is truly really sad :( i hope things get better for her sake!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1347864057 Cija A. Jefferson

    Absolutely fantastic, thoughtful and thought-provoking piece; thank you for sharing!

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