It was one year ago today when Skylar Neese left home, fully expecting to return. Sadly, she never got the chance.
Looking back over the last year, I found hundreds of thousands of news articles, blog entries, posts, comments, tweets and retweets about Skylar Neese. Some reported on her disappearance, others lamented about it and the state of today’s teens. Early on, when it was thought Skylar was just another runaway, most people who said anything in public simply urged the 16-year-old Star City teen to return home. To the loving arms of her parents, Dave and Mary Neese, who were beside themselves with worry.
Flash forward to January 2013, when police found what was left of Skylar, just across the state line in Pennsylvania. Although they couldn’t publicly verify it then, most of us suspected it was the beautiful girl from the Missing posters–while we hoped and prayed it wasn’t.
I’ve never lost a child. I’ve come close. Really close, a few times. Once in the mall, another time in a creek behind our house and once to a teen friend of my daughter’s who sounds like one of the two teens now in custody in this case. Because I found my children–alive and relatively unscathed–I never had to experience what the Neeses did. So I don’t know how they do it.
But as Geoff Fuller and I spend hours with them, conducting interview upon interview, we’re learning how they’ve done it up until now. As well as how they’ll probably continue surviving the loss of their only child. This last week alone, we’ve spent a combined total of more than 120 hours on the upcoming book about Skylar’s murder. Because this project goes far beyond just her death, and looks at the various social aspects involved, there will be dozens of lessons for parents. Those lessons will highlight the common mistakes most of today’s parents make, but they will also paint a picture of the wonderful way Dave and Mary’s love for Skylar kept their small family of three intact in spite of all the stresses of daily life.
That is a very valuable lesson indeed–one which every parent needs to know.
Editor’s note: Berry and another West Virginia author, Geoff Fuller (Full Bone Moon), have recently teamed up to write the authorized version of the Skylar Neese murder. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, is now live. Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”