The first thing Kiki Ostrenga saw as she ran out the front door of her family's white ranch house were the neon-green words spray-painted across the front path: "Regal Slut." She stopped short. Maybe this is just a dream, she thought. The 14-year-old took a few fearful steps forward. She gasped when she reached the driveway. Her parents' home was splattered with ketchup, chocolate syrup and eggs. And across the garage door, big as a billboard, was scrawled the word "SLUT."
"Oh, my God," Kiki whispered. Her mother and 11-year-old sister stepped outside, and their faces froze in horror. That's when Kiki burst into sobs. This was more than she could handle. For the past year, she had endured the hateful blogs and e-mails, the threats and prank calls, the late-night drive-bys with teenagers screaming her name out of car windows. Just this week, at an all-ages punk show, a pack of girls had recognized Kiki in the audience and jumped her, cramming gum into her bleached-blond hair. But this vandalism of her home was a different level of harassment.
A year earlier, Kirsten "Kiki" Ostrenga was just another tween nobody living her so-called life in Coral Springs, Florida. Then she got a MySpace account, and everything changed. A stylish wisp of a girl who adored punky "scene kid" fashion, Kiki began filling her MySpace page with pouty photos of herself in heavy makeup and cropped tops, adopting a persona as brash and outrageous as the real Kirsten was awkward and insecure. She named her creation "Kiki Kannibal," and her new and improved online self swiftly became an Internet celebrity. But fame had come with a backlash she could never have anticipated.
Still crying, Kiki clambered into the family car. Despite that morning's shock, she had to run: She was late for the first of two appointments, which summed up her life. The first was a modeling gig at a local hair salon, for which Kiki was dolled up in a pink tube top, skinny jeans and heels, her makeup now a tragic ruin. Her second appointment was with a sex-crimes detective, investigating a pedophile who had sought her out online and taken advantage of her.
As her mom backed the car out of the driveway, Kiki took one last look at their house, where her father stood before the graffiti-ridden garage, raising one hand in a cheerless goodbye. She wondered if this would go down as the strangest day of her young life.
Not by a long shot. Kiki was hurtling into a twisted online realm, populated not just with trash-talking teens but also with stalkers, hackers, predators and profiteers. She didn't realize the Web can be a portal for people's cruelest impulses, or that it allows those forces to assemble into a mob. She didn't know that her life was about to become an extreme parable about connection and celebrity in the digital age — that the next four years would be fraught with danger, threats to her family, and a violent death. She had yet to understand what a lot of us don't comprehend: that our virtual lives can take on their own momentum, rippling outward with real-life consequences we can neither predict nor control.
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