Late one summer night last year, Skylar Neese, 16, crept out of her family’s home in Star City and hopped in a car with two people. She never made it home.
Her badly decomposed body was found six months later in a ditch about 20 miles west of Morgantown. She had been stabbed to death.
For months the disappearance of the bright University High School student has been the subject of myriad social media theories and community gossip. All the while, authorities said little about the investigation.
Then Wednesday there was a stunning development. One of Skylar’s high school classmates was brought quietly into Monongalia County Circuit Court. Rachel Shoaf, 16, believed to be one of Skylar’s best friends, admitted to stabbing Skylar to death the night of her disappearance.
Shoaf pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was taken away for a pre-sentencing review. The prosecution will recommend a 20-year sentence, while the defense will request that she be sentenced as a juvenile, which would likely mean a lighter penalty.
State and federal prosecutors are saying virtually nothing about the details of the case, but it’s evident that Shoaf’s plea was carefully orchestrated. The plea agreement requires her to “offer truthful and forthright testimony in any subsequent proceeding deemed necessary.”
And that’s where the second defendant in this emotion-charged case comes in.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says, “Charges are pending against a second juvenile who is currently in custody in Monongalia County.” Officials are prevented by law from releasing the suspect’s name, but she is believed to be another one of Skylar’s classmates.
The next step for this second suspect will be a preliminary hearing within 10 days behind closed doors before a circuit judge. At some point, she could be transferred to adult status, depending on the charges.
Shoaf’s guilty plea suggests a lesser charge and lighter sentence in return for her testimony against the second defendant.
What is still missing from the case, however, is a reasonable explanation as to what happened that July night. Neese’s father, Dave, believes the three girls traveled to the western end of Monongalia County, perhaps to go to party, but what exactly happened and the possible motive remains elusive.
“Why? I want to know why it happened,” Neese told MetroNews Wednesday. “I don’t want to hear that they were mad (at each other). There has to be another reason why.”
The crime is particularly difficult for Neese to comprehend because the two suspects were always with Skylar. “I thought of these girls as her best friends,” Neese said.