Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played With Fire

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There are 530 Facebook profiles claiming to be Kiki Kannibal, including one with just over 20,000 fans, and none of them are hers. Some are obvious fakes, like "Kiki Dorkface Kannibal," but others are hard to detect. "I met a guy who said, 'I talked to a fake of yours online for two years, and I thought I was talking to you!'" says Kiki, now 18. In person, she's striking — with angular cheekbones, plump lips and enormous almond-shaped blue eyes, which she enhances to superhuman size with false lashes and liquid liner. If you're among those who have logged more than 2 million views on Kiki's live-video stream on Stickam.com, you've encountered those eyes, gazing out of your computer, creating an unnervingly intimate connection while Kiki, the epitome of modern oversharing, blathers on about her favorite song, her menstrual cycle or whatever stray thought noodles through her mind. And Kiki's public has responded in kind, expressing both its love and loathing without boundaries. This past Christmas, one fan wrote to ask if she could crash with Kiki: "So I could breathe and reboot." Days later, Kiki got a different request: "So if I wanted to send you a homemade bomb that will explode and kill you when you open it, where would I send it to?"

Five years in, the cyberstalking nightmare shows no signs of stopping, and threat assessment has become the backdrop of Kiki's life. She doesn't take any of it lightly, especially since the message she got last spring: "I know where you live and I'm gonna kill your fucking cat." Soon afterward, her cat Sebastian disappeared.

"It's scary," says Kiki, her words muffled by her braces. Seated at a cafe near her current home outside Orlando — she prefers I don't reveal the precise location — she's stick-thin in a black minidress, a heavy quartz-skull necklace and a skull ring; despite her tough-girl accessories, she comes across as tentative and frail, hugging her studded purse for comfort. "I never thought I would run into these types of people," she says. "But on the Internet, you're exposed to people that will do anything."

Fame wasn't Kiki's intention when she first logged on in 2006. She was just a lonely 13-year-old whose days at Sawgrass Springs Middle School had become a bullying hell. Her family had transplanted from the Chicago suburb of Streamwood for dad Scott's computer-engineering job. The Ostrengas and their three kids — Kyler, Kirsten and Dakota — were lured by promises of palm trees and sunshine. "I had this idea of Florida as this paradise," says mom Cathy, a forthright Midwesterner. Cathy was 18 when she met Scott; he was fronting a rock band with big dreams; she was putting herself through college, her sights set on law school. Instead, they married young, Cathy became a housewife, and Scott wound up in middle management. Moving to Florida was supposed to be an exciting jolt to their lives. "We thought it would be fun," says Cathy.

But from the day she started sixth grade at Sawgrass, Kiki had a hard time fitting in, especially with the Hispanic and black girls who dominated her classroom. "I was bullied constantly," Kiki recalls. "They would call me a white ho and a white bitch." Her parents complained to the school but were disappointed by what they saw as a lack of response.

Kiki fought back by embracing her outsider status, chopping her long hair and dyeing it pink. She remade herself into a "scene queen," a teen trend that uses as its baseline the snarl of goth — thick makeup, piercings, fishnets — and brightens it with the cutesy uplift of hair bows, vivid Eighties colors and lots of Hello Kitty. The effect is a hodgepodge of the grown-up and the infantile: adolescence visualized. But Kiki's new look made her even more of a freak at school, and her tormentors' words turned to punches. Exasperated by the school — and by schools in general, having tried various options for their autistic son — her parents withdrew Kiki after seventh grade to home-school her with her older brother.

The Ostrengas urged Kiki to view it as a chance at a more stimulating life path than their own. Pointing out her creativity, her eye for fashion and how much she enjoyed making her own jewelry, they laid out a plan. When Kiki was ready, she'd take the high school equivalency exam and enroll in college courses. (Kiki would accomplish this by age 15.) Meanwhile, she would launch her own company to make and sell jewelry, and learn real-life business skills.

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