It’s a scorching summer night in West Virginia, and Skylar Neese is sneaking out to meet her friends. Soon, night turns into day, but the teenager never returns to climb back through her bedroom window. Months later, investigators begin to get close to Skylar’s best friends – and are startled by a terrifying truth.
Skylar was born on February 10, 1996, in Morgantown, a city in Monongalia County, West Virginia. The only child of Mary and Dave Neese, she attended University High School (UHS), where she was an honors student. Gifted in science and math, Skylar had ambitions to become a criminal lawyer.
When she was just eight years old, Skylar had met Shelia Eddy, also an only child. But whereas Skylar’s home life was stable, Shelia’s was often chaotic. As a result, the girl had developed a wild-child persona that Skylar found difficult to resist.
As teenagers, the girls began attending the same high school, still the best of friends. There they met Rachel Shoaf, a tall redhead who came from a very religious home. The trio soon became close friends. And although they lived in different parts of town, the digital world of social media became their stomping ground.
In the summer of 2012 16-year-old Skylar was working at Wendy’s, a job that she appeared to enjoy. She had begun preparing for the next academic year and had already ticked two books off the required reading list. Things were not going quite so well with Shelia and Rachel, however.
Since the spring, there had been signs that the girls’ friendship was in a downward spiral. Skylar’s Twitter feed was in fact littered with obtuse references to “a two faced bitch” and the fact that her friends had been making plans that did not include her.
Things appeared to be coming to a head on July 4, when Skylar wrote another tweet complaining that she was at home alone. The next day, she returned from an evening shift at Wendy’s and told her parents that she was heading straight to bed. Once in her room, though, she slipped out of the window and disappeared into the night.
When Skylar failed to return, Shelia and Rachel were questioned by the police. According to them, Skylar had snuck out to meet them at around 11:00 p.m. The girls claimed that they then went for a drive and smoked some marijuana, before dropping Skylar at the end of her road sometime before midnight.
Something was amiss, however. On security-camera footage recovered from the Neeses’ apartment building, Skylar could be seen climbing out of her bedroom window at around 12:30 a.m. Afterwards, she got into the back seat of a waiting car, which then drove away.
Sure that she hadn’t run away, Skylar’s family focused on finding the teenager alive. Michael Neese, Skylar’s uncle, made flyers and handed them out around the neighborhood. Missing posters were put up across town. And when Shelia posted on Facebook about how much she was missing her friend, Dave responded, assuring her that Skylar would soon come home.
The rumor mill had begun to turn, however. According to a classmate, there were whispers that the girls had been into drugs and that Skylar had died of an overdose. Had Shelia and Rachel panicked and disposed of their friend’s body? “You had people who wanted to get attention pretending to know what was happening,” UHS student Morgan Lawrence subsequently told Elle. “But no one knew.”
Just as it had before her disappearance, the internet continued to play a crucial role in Skylar’s story. On true-crime message boards, users speculated about the teenager’s fate. Meanwhile, two accounts had begun following Shelia and Rachel on Twitter, leaving messages that seemed to hint at some kind of dirty secret.
In October Shelia appeared to hit back at the critics. “No one on this earth can handle me and rachel,” she wrote, “and if you think you can you’re wrong.” By now, investigators had begun to find the girls’ behavior suspicious. To state trooper Chris Berry, Shelia’s regular social media updates about partying and drinking while her friend was missing were a red flag.
Over time, the police conducted more interviews and slowly began to inch closer to the truth. Berry eventually concluded that the car on the surveillance tape was in fact Shelia’s own vehicle – despite her claims to the contrary. What’s more, footage from a convenience store proved that the girls had been heading east, not west as they had claimed.
Then, on December 28 Rachel’s parents called 911 to report that their daughter was out of control. Six days later, after a spell in a mental health facility, she told her lawyer that she was ready to talk. But when investigators arrived, they were in for a shock.
“We were expecting her to say, ‘Yes, Skylar overdosed on heroin,’” state trooper Ronnie Gaskins admitted. “The first three words out of her mouth were: ‘We stabbed her.’” Speechless, they listened to Rachel’s confession. She and Shelia had apparently been planning to kill Skylar since the spring.
Armed with a shovel and two kitchen knives, Shelia and Rachel had collected the unsuspecting Skylar from her house and driven her to some woods. Then, on a signal, both girls attacked their victim, stabbing her repeatedly until she died. According to Rachel, the dying Skylar had simply asked her attackers, “Why?”
On January 16, 2013, Gaskins found human remains in the area that Rachel had described. While they waited for formal identification, Rachel and Shelia continued to send a series of cryptic tweets. “This bitch is not going to ruin my life all over again,” read one. “Wonder if there’s a law and order svu where they DON’T figure it out,” read another.
On May 1, 2013, Rachel pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and was sentenced to between ten and 30 years behind bars. Eight months later, Shelia was sentenced to life. But even by the end of the trial, authorities were still left baffled as to what could have spurred the girls towards such a violent attack.
The same year as the trial, the West Virginia Senate passed a bill inspired by the teenager, dubbed Skylar’s Law. Authorities now have the power to issue public announcements whenever a child is missing – even if they do not suspect that a kidnapping has taken place. The Neeses, meanwhile, have built a memorial in the woods near Brave, an attempt to reclaim the site of their daughter’s brutal – and needless – death.