One of the West Virginia teenagers accused of fatally stabbing a 16-year-old classmate was like a second daughter to the victim's parents — a girl who had been in and out of their house since age 8, a girl who tied up the phone lines morning and night, and a girl who apparently lied to them for nearly a year about their daughter's death.
Though her name is common knowledge in this small West Virginia town, it hasn't been publicly released by authorities because of the confidentiality of juvenile court. Only if and when she is charged as an adult in the slaying of Skylar Neese will the suspect's identity be publicly revealed.
But Skylar's parents, Dave and Mary Neese, know who she is. Or at least they thought they did.
"She walked in the door when she came here. She didn't even knock. She was like our daughter," Dave Neese said. "And not to know someone is more scary than knowing them, because now you know what they're capable of."
Authorities say the unidentified juvenile and a second girl, 16-year-old Rachel Shoaf, plotted to lure Skylar out of her family's apartment and kill her last July 6.
Most likely, Skylar's mom says, the University High School honors student just thought she was going for a joyride.
"One after another, just lie, lie, lie," Mary Neese said this week in her first extensive interview since the slaying. "Did the same thing to the police. That's how the police got onto them, because they would forget what they told them at one point and tell them another, totally different story."
Investigators say Shoaf and the other girl drove Skylar to a remote spot on a gravel road where the lush woods become Greene County, Pa., just across a bridge and over the railroad tracks from the unincorporated West Virginia community of Macdale. The girls chatted for a while, according to testimony at Shoaf's plea hearing on a second-degree murder charge. Then, at an agreed-upon moment, they stabbed her.
"What was going through my baby's head?" Dave Neese wonders. "I can't imagine what she was thinking the night this happened. Why? You know? Same thing everybody else is asking. Why? Why would you kill me?
"This is a girl that's 16 years old, that loves her friends to death. Would do anything in the world for them," he said. "And they turn on her and count down — 3, 2, 1 — and stab her? I mean, what kind of sickness is that?"
Shoaf's identity was revealed May 1 when prosecutors transferred her case to adult court and accepted her guilty plea. Authorities have said nothing about Shoaf or her unidentified co-defendant since. The Neeses, however, say they expect her name to be made public soon, possibly after Shoaf's as-yet unscheduled sentencing hearing.
Shoaf told police the girls tried to bury the body, but hid it under some tree limbs when they couldn't.
And there it lay for seven months.
When the Neeses couldn't find their daughter the morning of July 7, they didn't worry. They called the unidentified suspect. No, she told them. Haven't seen her in a few days.
In hindsight, it was odd. They'd been friends half their lives but became even tighter when the suspect moved from her home in the country to a closer one in town, Mary Neese said.
"They were inseparable at that point. Either she was at our house or Skylar was at her house," Mary Neese said.
They started hanging around with Shoaf, and Skylar's other friends quietly dropped out of the picture.
Then the trouble began, her mother said, "one mess after another."
Their antics were fairly typical teenage behavior, she said — skipping class, joyriding with boys, breaking Star City's 11 p.m. curfew — until they got hauled home by police at 2 a.m. after breaking the speed limit.
"Luckily, there was no alcohol, no drugs, nothing like that," Mary Neese said. "They were just riding around. But still, you're not supposed to do that."
Later, the Neeses discovered Skylar had been slipping out her first-floor bedroom window and dropping a few feet to the ground.
"We thought they had learned their lesson," Mary Neese said. "She was like, 'I understand, Mom. I understand.' She was in tears — not for herself but for the other girls being in trouble. So we thought they had learned their lesson. But they hadn't. Which we found out after."
It took until 4 p.m. on the day after the killing for panic to set in. That's when the Wendy's where Skylar worked called to say she hadn't shown up for a shift. The Neeses called police.
The next day, the longtime friend came to the apartment. She went door to door with Mary Neese, asking if people had seen Skylar.
Mary Neese had no reason to think she was anything but concerned.
For months, police chased down tips that led nowhere. Even they didn't initially suspect the girls. They might know more than they were saying, police told the Neeses. Maybe they're protecting someone.
Then the stories started to conflict. Mary Neese defended the girls "countless times" as police tried to tell her what they suspected.
"I kept saying, 'No. You guys, they are having as hard a time with this as we are,'" she said.
The transcript from Shoaf's hearing shows the break came Jan. 3, when she finally told investigators the truth — and where to find the body.
What they still don't know is why. Shoaf told police the girls just didn't want to be friends with Skylar anymore.
Dave and Mary Neese just shake their heads. They know there's more to it than that.
Mary Neese wants to look Shoaf in the eye and ask. With the other girl, she says, there's no point.
But Shoaf is now awaiting sentencing at a detention center in Wheeling. Prosecutors have indicated they'll recommend a 20-year prison sentence, though the victim's parents hope the judge will disregard he plea agreement and impose the 40 years allowed by law.
Either way, they may never know why their daughter died.
What they do know is they want to share their story. They are working with two local writers on a book to "get parents to open their eyes, just like we should have done," Mary Neese said.
The couple tried to trust their daughter. Go out with your friends, they said. Just call. Let us know where you are. Be home at a reasonable hour.
"I tried to give her her freedom, so we weren't on top of her all the time," Mary Neese said. "Now in hindsight, those parents who do that? More power to them. They should be."