Black or White, Martese Johnson, Elizabeth Daly, Hannah Graham All Harmed in Charlottesville

As I packed my bags for the Virginia Festival of the Book last week, I thought about Hannah Graham. The pretty, freckled 18-year-old University of Virginia student was abducted and murdered last September. Graham has been on my mind since I first heard she was missing, so I wanted to retrace her final steps while I was in Charlottesville. I wanted a way to honor her, and to reflect on the dangers fraught for female college students these days. I didn’t expect to learn so much when I did so.

Hannah Graham (courtesy of c-ville)

I had no idea until I stepped onto the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville how upscale a neighborhood Graham was in when she disappeared. Or, as one resident told me, why Graham wouldn’t have been inside Tempo, the 5th Street SE restaurant where she was supposedly seen for the last time on Sept. 13, 2014. Where the news media camped outside its doors for the next few weeks, as eager for scraps of information as a passing canine would be for leftover beef ribeye scraps.

More important and certainly more unsettling, I learned why Graham’s alleged killer, Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., would not have been inside Tempo with her. It’s something I haven’t seen in the media, and I’m wondering why reporters are keeping it quiet. Especially the local media, whose connections with townspeople and business owners surely offer them better access to the truth than any big-city reporters. I suppose they really might not know, but that seems a little farfetched.

I was sitting inside Tempo sipping an espresso martini Thursday after listening to Lucinda Franks talk about her marriage to Robert Morgenthau, as part of the panel discussion, “Lives, Loves, and Literature.” A few feet away, a live press conference was taking place. For a crime reporter, there is nothing quite like finding yourself smack dab in the middle of a breaking story that becomes national news. For this crime reporter, who has become very saddened by how badly decent black men who are not criminals are treated, I was glad to be discussing writing and books with a young couple seated at the bar next to me, instead of becoming sadder still, as I’m sure I would have had I attended the press conference.

At the heart of the event was what really happened to Martese Johnson, the 20-year-old black UVA honors student who was thrown to the ground by Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) agents a day earlier, after they claimed he was causing a disturbance. (Witnesses and even the bar owner where Johnson was denied entry say he wasn’t.) What really happened matters, you see, because Johnson was left very bloodied, with a head injury, and 10 stitches to close the gash the agents gave him when they threw him to the ground.

Martese Johnson (courtesy of ABC)

I can’t speak to that incident, but other Charlottesville residents can. “They’re the worst,” one older (white) shop owner said, comparing the ABC agents to thugs. A black engineer I talked to during my four-day stay said race isn’t a factor. Then he told me about Elizabeth Daly, whom ABC agents harassed in 2013 when they thought she was buying alcohol. (It was sparkling water.) Daly was then 20, and also a UVA student.

According to Reuters, “Daly, who is white, filed a $40 million lawsuit, which the state attorney general’s office eventually settled for $212,000.”

Elizabeth Daly (courtesy of NewsPlex.com)

Suffice to say the agency has given itself a very black eye, and this week some federal officials are calling for it to be stripped of its powers. Given how reckless its agents are, is it any wonder?

With the media focus on Martese Johnson, it might be easy to forget about Hannah Graham. But I can’t. In large part because Hannah might still be alive, if not for the fact that local authorities apparently missed the clues so many people saw in Matthews’ odd behavior, down through the years.

For example, I was told that Matthews, who has a lower-than-normal IQ, was regularly refused entry at several local bars. Why would that be? Well, Matthews would show up late at night and try to hit on young, drunk, female college students. No wonder police believe they might have a serial rapist on their hands.

Word got around about Matthews’ tactics, so he was blacklisted from many of the local establishments that serve alcohol. One of which was . . . Tempo.

Speaking of Tempo, it’s a pricey place that serves duck and a clientele of “rich white men,” as one resident told me. Which is why I chose to go inside for a drink, to see for myself. Yep, it sure is. I can’t imagine it being a favored hangout for many—if any—college students. Graham, I am told, was turned away at the door, because she was underage.

And that’s where it seems Matthews found her. He escorted her around the corner, into his car, and . . . that’s the last anyone saw of Hannah Graham.

Matthews—who comes from a well-respected family—has known anger issues. But he is also said to be so nice to some small children he knows well that they couldn’t believe he was possibly connected to Graham’s disappearance—was once asked about his late-night bar tactic. “It levels the playing field,” he supposedly said.

Well, not for Hannah Graham.

* * *
I have four books. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Two Years Later: What I Hope Teens Learn From Skylar

I’ve been away since last Wednesday, and I’m kicking myself for not writing this sooner. Just because I didn’t, though, does not mean that today’s date–the two-year anniversary of Skylar Neese’s disappearance–has not loomed large on my mind. How could it not, given that the book about her murder comes out in two days?

Like most of you, I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet Skylar. Many of us weren’t, and yet, through everything that’s been written about her, we wish we had. She was one of those teenagers who makes an indelible mark on you, I’ve learned. All her friends say so. And, if nothing else, Skylar’s effervescent smile and her zest for life (as seen in her photos) captivated us all. Made us long to know her, even though that could never be, not long after midnight on July 6, 2012.

I’d like to say I’ve gleaned some amazingly profound bits of wisdom from working on this book, but I haven’t. What I’ve come to realize is this: Skylar had true friends who warned her about hanging out with one of her killers. So did Skylar’s other killer. Both girls had true friends who cared enough about them to speak up. It’s tragic that neither girl listened to that counsel. If they had, there wouldn’t be a book. And that would be just fine by me.

When it comes to heeding advice from well meaning friends, adolescents aren’t much different from adults. It can be very difficult to take counsel, even when it’s accompanied by the best of intentions. We like to think we’re smart enough to know best, that our decisions are well reasoned and based on good judgement–but when even mature adults don’t listen to friends or family who try to warn them about some impending danger, how much harder it must be for unsuspecting teens.

Even if such sage advice comes from parents, as it did from Skylar’s–who warned her against sneaking out her window to hang out with friends late at night–it can be difficult for an independence-seeking teen to listen. Especially if that teen, like Skylar, is very bright, and thinks she knows best.

It’s a teenage trait, this pattern of thinking, and if it carries over into adult life, the price we pay becomes much higher. I had a friend like that. Because he didn’t heed the warning his parents gave him, in a split second his life was forever altered. Which is why the last time I talked to him was in 1979. He ignored the parents who loved him dearly and because he craved living on the edge, it cost him his life.

It really has been an honor to tell Skylar’s story. I hope Mary and Dave, Skylar’s parents, know this. Because, in the telling, we have the chance to help other teens, who may just learn from Skylar’s mistake. Who, by reading about her, long to become all she can’t be.

Hopefully these teens will understand that the people who love you the most won’t encourage you to break the law, or violate your personal or family values, or to simply have fun for the sake of having fun, regardless of the consequences. True friends won’t ever make you feel bad for following the rules, or staying safe. They will, instead, applaud you for it.

That’s what I’m thinking about today, two years after Skylar snuck out her bedroom window for the last time.

* * *

I have four books. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is being used in colleges and some high schools; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), is due out July 8, 2014.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella BooksNellie Bly BooksAmazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

 

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

From the Front Lines: Breaking Away From A Bully

It couldn’t be more ironic if we had been reading lines from a script.

Today’s early morning drive along Route 7 was pleasant enough, as I wound my way from Morgantown, W.Va., to Kingwood. It even included a serene interlude with an old friend at a Reedsville café. From there I continued driving east, to hear Judge Larry Miller sentence a man convicted of first-degree murder in a case of deadly domestic violence.

But before I could leave Kingwood and return home I had to file a police complaint–after I found myself facing a bully who wouldn’t back down.

* * *

I was sitting in the hallway outside Preston County Circuit Court when I saw her. I didn’t miss the cold glare in my direction, but I ignored it. Instead, I looked away and continued chatting with another reporter. Everyone was ushered into the courtroom not long after, where we sat through Denny Ervin’s hearing. I wanted to write about its outcome but instead I’ll direct you to two other worthwhile news reports.

And simply say this: Denny Ervin is an animal, and I have emails from his exes that prove it. Emails I’ve written about in earlier blogs. He carried out acts of terrorism that no one should have to endure, and a life sentence without mercy is too good for him.

But that’s all I’m saying about Denny because I’m writing about my personal experience with a different bully, and how I handled it.

I’m pretty sure Dr. Phil would approve.

At the hearing’s end, everyone filed out of the courtroom and I saw her. Standing there, with that same intimidating stare. Her body language was equally threatening, and I felt the need to step to the side just to avoid her. She tried to engage me, as I suspected she might, but I cut her off, using humor to try to defuse the situation.

“Hey, thanks for reading my column,” I said with a smile and a thumps-up sign.

My humor fell flat. She said something which in legal terms would probably qualify as an assault. I couldn’t say now what it was, but I do know it was a threat of some kind or other, designed to cow me into keeping silent about thirteen years of domestic terrorism that began when I was a teenage bride.

I looked her directly in the eye. “If you ever contact me again, I will go to the police.” I was speaking about her periodic and harassing Facebook messages—messages designed to scare me and assassinate my character. Full of comments such as, “you can’t rape the willing.”

Then I walked right past her.

* * *

In 1999 I drove my daughters to Ruby Memorial Hospital and waited there with them because their stepmother was having problems during her pregnancy. They were really worried about her and their unborn half-sibling, so I took them. I didn’t just do it for my daughters; I did it for her. I believed it was the humane thing to do, the right thing to do, and a simple act of kindness. I also thought it might engender some goodwill from a woman who has hated me since she married my children’s father. Hoped it might show her I wasn’t the evil witch my ex made me out to be, and that I had a heart.

I always did. Before he remarried, whenever my children grumbled about another one of their father’s girlfriends, I tried to encourage them to see the bright side: “Look at it this way. It’s just one more person to love you.” I did the same thing with his new wife. Besides, with a woman around, I believed they stood a better chance of being protected from his violence.

* * *

In the courthouse basement after the hearing I stood chatting with two reporters. By the time I left the building, she was there. Waiting for me. I knew that the minute I saw her. She made sure I couldn’t reach my car without passing her, because she intended to continue intimidating me, to issue more threats. I did the same thing I did throughout most of my first marriage: I turned the other cheek.

She followed me, her voice louder, trying to force me into an ugly confrontation. That’s when I did it. I wheeled around to face her.

And said the only thing I’ve wanted to since 1999, not long before she went to the hospital for prenatal problems. “You let that man abuse my children until social services got involved and removed them from your home.” I raised my arm and pointed directly at her. “You let him do that!”

“I wasn’t at home,” she said.

Disgusted, I turned to go. She tried to follow me, spewing whatever threats she felt compelled to utter. By then the crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse could hear her yelling. Everyone was watching us. Even a court bailiff had come outside to see if there was a problem.

This is why I told my story,
and why I won’t stop telling it.

“Stay away from me!” I said, headed for my car. She followed me, still chattering. I opened my door, stopped, and shut it. Turning around, I walked past her.

“Go ahead, go tell the police,” she taunted.

It was great advice.

* * *

My readers usually wonder what happened after Eddie and I divorced. Many have even written to ask me. It’s hard to talk about and even more difficult to write about because Eddie and his new wife cost me a lot. I left the best job I’d had up to that point, in May 1999, and traveled 3,000 miles to help my daughters after they were forced to leave their father’s home.

Those are a few of my losses. But my children lost even more.

I spent the intervening years with this woman taking issue with me and now, my memoir—which doesn’t give Eddie’s real name, and which took place years before she ever met him.

I’ve contemplated it, and this is what I believe: it must be really hard to stay married to a man whose first wife has accused him of such horrible atrocities, and has the evidence to prove it—in the form of his own words. If you have to live with that lie, trying to convince yourself he’s a good guy, then you have no choice but to hate the woman he spent thirteen years raping. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and it’s something abused women do to survive.

So really, I pity her. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let her bully me. Sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself. I will not be a doormat. For anyone—male or female.

* * *

I have three books, and will soon have four. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is being used in colleges and some high schools; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), due out in July 2013.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

 

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

A Very Long Year Winds Down With 31 Days of March Madness


In less than a year, I wrote two books. In the midst of that, my sister died, my husband contracted a bone infection, and another loved one had a meltdown of sorts.

Then, after meeting an extremely stressful deadline, I found I couldn’t write. It’s been a month now and my fingers have finally found their way back to the keyboard for more than a random email, tweet, Instagram photo, or Facebook post.

What this April 14 photo doesn’t show: the all-day vomiting and being admitted to the hospital again two hours later.

Part of the problem is having my husband in the hospital since February. Not continually, but in and out since then, beginning with a 10-hour visit to the emergency department. We’ve been to the hospital so many times since then I’m thinking of reserving a room there. (In fact, I’ve got a length of soft blue fabric that matches his eyes, from which I could fashion a lovely window dressing in no time.)

The last year has roared by at warp speed, while simultaneously seeming like it would never end. I felt like Princess Buttercup meets Scheherazade, where events conspired to tangle me up in one mess after another, all while writing two books in what turned out to be about six months. Looking back that feels like an exaggeration, but in reality much of the research to write Skylar’s book took three or four months. Only then could the writing process begin. (To be fair, I have a coauthor, but today’s blog is about how the last year affected me.)

Along the way, one emergency after another kept cropping up, among them a family member’s brush with the law, which led me to seek psychiatric care—for them, not me. (Although truth be told, by now I could probably benefit from such care myself.)

If I wasn’t talking to shrinks or orthopedic doctors or police detectives or undertakers in my professional time, I was doing so on my personal dime. It’s amazing how so many events in my real life ran parallel to those in the book I was writing. There were police investigations, mental illness and drug use to worry about, both on and off the clock. They say art imitates life, but in this case my life mimicked art.

That art was true-crime, and The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese was released as an ebook in February. It was designed to allow people to follow Shelia Eddy’s murder trial. Then Eddy pleaded guilty, leaving no trial—and little time to unearth anything else for the print book, Pretty Little Killers, which will be out in July. (Amazingly, quite we unearthed quite a bit, in the form of at least 100 more pages that makes this book finally feel finished.)

Then somehow, sandwiched between my day job and my home life, I had to board a plane and fly 3,000 miles to Los Angeles to appear on the Dr. Phil show. That episode contains enough memories to create at least a short story. One of them involves my 3 a.m. airport run where, after flashing my high beams at a driver who was blocking the passing lane, I found myself being chased up I-79. Though the interstate was fairly deserted, every time I passed another vehicle, the enraged driver kept creeping closer to my bumper. I watched my speedometer climb higher and higher, until the gauge read 90 m.p.h. I tried to call 911.

Only nothing happened when I used my car’s hands-free device. Instead, an automated female voice kept repeating: “Phone is not in range.” Eyes glued to the road, my free hand fumbled around inside my purse, feeling for a phone that wasn’t there. In the haste to make my flight, I forgot it.

The egomaniac was still tailing me when I reached Washington, Pennsylvania, so I took the first exit. When I returned to the highway he was gone. I managed to make it to the airport and through security but as I hurried to my gate I heard myself being paged over the intercom. I was the last passenger to board, but I made my flight.

After landing in Los Angeles and being driven to my hotel, I ate a quick dinner and fell asleep. In the morning, I rode to Paramount Studios with Mary and Dave Neese. As I sat in the audience at the show, I realized everyone on stage looked fuzzy, including Dr. Phil. That’s because the crew had me remove my glasses for the camera. In hindsight, I should have left them on because it felt really weird not being able to see. Still, I was a bit dazzled when Dr. Phil held up a copy of our book.

Yes, that really is Dr. Phil holding our book!

Forty-eight hours later my fifteen minutes of fame was behind me and I was back home, writing again. Somewhere between rewriting chapter thirty and nailing down a new ending there were other media appearances and time needed to care for publicity matters, all of the extras you never think about when you sit down to pen a book.

It was a daunting task, to say the least, but not an impossible one. Essentially, I had to take the rumors we knew, add the facts revealed at the sentencing hearings for Shelia Eddy and Rachel Shoaf, and see if everything when added together equaled a motive for murder.

At the last minute, the deadline looming, I created a makeshift workspace outside of my husband’s hospital room where he was being treated for osteomyelitis. There, for one solid week, I wrote and rewrote and conducted at least four more interviews—one inside my new, temporary office, the rest away from the hospital—leaving various friends to babysit my husband while I drove to see the people who promised to reveal new details about Skylar’s murder.

After publication, seeing our “baby” find its way to publication and then land at number 12 on the New York Times best-seller list was just the icing on the cake. In the end, like Scherazade, I overcame the turmoil and rescued myself—but not without a little help from my friends, who dropped off food and coffee and provided emotional support and editorial encouragement and never stopped asking: “What can I do to help?”

Throughout this entire time the most important lesson I have learned, in the words of one of the dearest of them, is that writing a book isn’t unlike rearing a child: it takes a village.

* * *
Editor’s note: Berry and Geoff Fuller teamed up in 2013 to write the authorized version of this story. BenBella Books released The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese February 18. You can also find it on iTunes and Barnes and Noble. Amazon readers have given it 4.6 stars.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of silence, watch Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, 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.”

If You Talk the Talk, You Should Walk the Walk

Many years ago as a young news reporter, I learned what happens when a government agency attempts to violate their employees’ right to free speech. They live to regret it. Almost without exception, it pays to be painfully honest when faced with a sensitive situation—such as the death of a student.

In particular, the murder of Skylar Neese. She’s the Star City, W.Va., girl whose two best friends have been charged with killing her.

One girl has already pled guilty to second-degree murder; the other one faces criminal court come February. Since Free Speech Week ends tomorrow, it seems the perfect time to discuss why University High School officials have issued an edict requiring everyone to stay silent about Skylar’s murder. Apparently because victim, admitted murderer, and accused murderer attended the problem-plagued school together. (In addition to relocating students to the new high school after the school year began, there has been a body found on the site, an indoor flood that closed the new building, and a gas leak, among other problems.)

I had to laugh after reading reporter Jim Bissett’s article in yesterday’s Dominion Post. Speaking specifically about UHS, he says classrooms in Monongalia County “aren’t shy about launching intellectual exploration of freedom of speech and other liberties many citizens take for granted—and other societies don’t have.”

“Intellectual exploration of freedom of speech”? What a joke! Exploration is more than talking the talk; true exploration requires walking the walk. It means understanding a person’s right to exercise free speech—and giving them the opportunity to do so.

And what “other societies” is he referring to? He must have been talking about places where the government and those in power restrict speech. You know, “other societies.” Unfortunately, from what I’ve been told, speech isn’t really free at University High School. Many, many students have said talking about Skylar’s murder is forbidden on school property, and at least three adults have said teachers are afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they do talk. That’s because, they say, Principal Shari Burgess has decreed as much. (I tried to contact Burgess before posting, but she did not respond.) But UHS staffers also say Burgess told them county board of education officials created the mandate.

Which it may or may not be true. A couple of people who work for the school system have told me it isn’t. So I went to the Mon County Board of Education office on Sept. 23, where I spoke to a redhead named Beth in Superintendent of Schools Frank Devono’s office. Citing FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), the federal law that prevents educators from discussing matters (specifically pertaining to a student’s educational records—a right that can be waived if student safety is in question or if legal authorities request certain information) that could violate a student’s right to privacy, Beth said school officials probably can’t talk until after the trial.

And when I asked her if it’s true the directive to remain silent came from someone at the board level, Beth had no knowledge of it. I told her I would like to find out for sure, and in addition, I wanted to talk to Devono about events that occurred at UHS before Skylar’s murder. Beth said she would inquire and get back to me. To date, I haven’t received a return phone call.

While digging for details about what led to Skylar’s murder, about the social factors and friendships that affect today’s teens, and about how this tragedy has affected not just our teens but their parents, I’ve learned not to take a refusal to talk personally. What I do object to is learning that an educator is in fear of losing his or her job for no good reason.

What’s wrong with saying how Skylar’s death affected you or your students? Where’s the harm in speaking up about how it’s changed the way you teach or why you think we as a society need to pay more attention to our adolescents? Or that we’re missing the mark completely, when it comes to what our values are?

Then there’s the well known fact that UHS has lost several students through violent means in recent years: Skylar was the third murder victim that I’m aware of. There has also been at least one suicide, another student who died in a car accident, and several suicidal students who may or may not have gotten the help they needed. If an entire student body is being silenced about Skylar, then what else might they be silent about? And what dangerous undertow is all of this silence creating?

One parent I interviewed said something profound: If students and teachers are not allowed to talk about what happened, or what led up to it, it stands to reason the police investigation was also affected—because facts about the case could have come to light much sooner, had people been allowed to talk about what they knew or suspected.

This directive also makes me concerned that some students might be loathe to talk, for fear of any educational retribution they believe they might face. Or actually have been told they would. If so, that’s alarming.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case because, by far, the Morgantown-area teens who are close to this case have been more open and willing to talk than almost any adult. Or it could be a teenager’s natural state of fearlessness that’s enabling them to be more honest than their elders.

Ironically, it would seem that UHS teachers agree that free speech can help prevent things like a student’s death. Take teacher Donovan Riggleman, who was quoted in the DP piece: “The free-speech tragedies, he said, are the cases of students who have committed suicide because of such bullying,” Bissett wrote when paraphrasing Riggleman, who was actually talking about cyberbullying. (Unless someone out there can shed some light on it, Skylar’s death doesn’t appear to have as much of a connection to bullying as once thought.)

But do UHS teachers really agree with Riggleman? Do they really believe free speech can help prevent a student’s death? Maybe he’s in the minority. Or maybe it’s only held to be true in cases of cyberbullying. And what about after a student’s death? Should teachers talk about it then—or should they keep quiet, like they’ve been instructed to do? Does anyone really still believe restricting free speech to preserve silence is a good idea?

I don’t think they do.

Editor’s note: Award-winning editor Geoff Fuller (author of Full Bone Moon) and I are writing the book about Skylar Neese’s murder, which will be published by BenBella Books in Fall 2014. If you have information about the case, please contact us using the form below.

Shelia Eddy Pleads Not Guilty

The contrast between defense attorney and client couldn’t have been more stark: His voice boomed. It was by far the loudest in the courtroom. Distinct and certain, everyone seated inside the wood-paneled room could hear him without the need to lean forward, fearful of missing a single syllable.

Hers was soft and uncertain, almost childlike in its tone. I know I had to strain to hear her words. I’m not sure if it was by design or genetics, since today was the first time I heard her speak in person. Honestly, she didn’t have much to say—except “not guilty.”

Four times in a row. To the charge of first-degree murder. To the charge of kidnapping. To two charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

The murder of Skylar Neese. Her best friend.

Morgantown residents have been waiting since 2012 to hear someone speak in public about Skylar’s death. Since then, people around the world have joined us, as they waited along with us, hoping to hear someone explain what happened to Skylar the night of July 6, 2012. Hoping to have someone take responsibility for her death. They’ve been eagerly awaiting this since May 1, 2013, when Rachel Shoaf, another “best friend” of Skylar’s pleaded guilty to Skylar’s murder.

Shoaf pleaded guilty to second-degree murder right away. But her other “best friend,” the girl who appeared in Mon County Circuit Court today, did nothing of the kind—one of the reasons this case has moved along with such slow deliberation.

And until last week, even though everyone knew who she was, no one who is anyone in the media would name her. That changed last Wednesday, when she was finally transferred from juvenile to adult status. If no one heard her name Wednesday, they couldn’t have missed it Friday, when the September term of the grand jury indicted her in Skylar’s murder.

Shelia Rae Eddy is a small-boned teen of 17, and prettier in person than her pictures depict. Deprived of makeup and hair products, wearing wrist and ankle shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit, she looks much younger than she is. More fragile. As I watched her being led into the courtroom today, in her inmate-issued white socks and sandals, I couldn’t help but notice her long, blond hair.

What surprised me most was her lack of emotion today. A flat affect, psychologists call it. I didn’t know if she felt no emotion or if she was simply blank with the enormity of the moment.

There were at least a dozen other inmates whose names, whose crimes, were first brought before Circuit Judge Russell Clawges. They all seemed to be pretty standard procedure—save for the one inmate, Jerod Alan Green , accused of the third-offense DUI that killed Mon County Deputy Michael Todd May on Feb. 18 last year.

Maybe that’s why Eddy went last. After all, it’s not every day that a pretty teenage girl is accused with planning to kill her best friend. But her being last made it that much more dramatic. Especially since she was the only female inmate in the courtroom.

Eddy and her attorney are also opposite in physicality. He is as tall, broad, and dark as she is petite, fair, and tiny. But it was their voices that commandeered our attention. Especially when Mike Benninger answered Judge Clawgess’s questions.

“Have you discussed the charges with your client?” Clawgess asked.

“I have, your Honor. Carefully,” Benninger replied.

“Does she understand the charges against her?” the Judge asked.

“She absolutely does,” the defense attorney said.

I was sitting one row back in the gallery where the media and other audience sits. Behind me sat two rows of people—including Skylar’s father, Dave, and her aunt, Carol Michaud—and before Eddy could finish her first “not guilty,” I heard sobs coming from their direction.

I’m told people who came to observe, who didn’t even know Skylar or her family, began to cry at the sounds of grief and pain coming from the Neese contingent.

The most surreal thing to me was looking at Eddy’s face as she turned and walked down the aisle, right past me. I didn’t see a single tear. A colleague said her eyes appeared to be rimmed in red, as if she had been crying while answering the Judge’s questions.

I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that with those eight words, the “not guilty,” repeated once as each criminal count against her was read, it became clear that the search for answers to what happened to Skylar Neese is going to be long and painful.

And anything but simple.

 

Editor’s note: Berry and award-winning editor Geoff Fuller (author of 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’s 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.

 

The Wait is Over: Shelia Eddy to be Tried as Adult in Skylar Neese Murder

The most difficult part of covering the Skylar Neese story is deciding which hat to wear: journalist or author. But that’s nothing compared to the challenge of being Skylar’s parents, on days like this one.

News media acros the country breathed a collective sigh of relief Wednesday, since Shelia Eddy can now be named publicly in all articles about Skylar Neese.
Yesterday I tweeted that “she who has been named” had finally, after months of silence from the authorities, been officially named. Let the record show that Shelia Eddy, who will soon turn 18, was publicly named by officials in “matters pending against [her].”

Monongalia County Prosecutor Marcia Ashdown didn’t say it, but everyone knows Eddy’s change from juvenile to adult status has to do with the murder of Skylar Neese. The murder of Eddy’s best friend, from as far back as second grade. Eddy is the second girl in recent months to face this distinction, of being viewed by the State of West Virginia as an adult, fully accountable for her actions, in Skylar’s death. The first girl was Rachel Shoaf, who back in May pleaded guilty to stabbing Skylar. According to court records that we can now discuss on the record, Eddy was the other teen named in Shoaf’s confession.

Shoaf also said Skylar’s murder had been planned. Evidence we’ve gathered indicates that planning was long underway before it actually took place. “We” is another Morgantown author, Geoff Fuller, and me. We’ve been investigating the details surrounding Skylar’s murder for several months. Along the way, we’ve spent considerable time in the company of Skylar’s parents.

So when I tweeted yesterday that I think a celebration is in order, that Sept. 4, 2012, is a great day, a day to celebrate, I meant that only half-heartedly. It is a reason to celebrate, in a sense, when justice occurs. Seeing someone who has been implicated in Skylar’s death finally be named publicly gives us all cause to celebrate. That’s what justice is all about, isn’t it? Finding, then naming, the people responsible for heinous crimes like this one.

However, this day is also interminably sad and tragic. Why do I say that? Well, put yourself in Skylar’s parent’s–Dave and Mary Neese’s–shoes. In the 427 days since Skylar went missing, can you imagine how many times they have cried? How a passing news headline or a question from a well-meaning stranger, upon recognizing them in public, must make them mourn their only child?

I can’t say with certainty, but my maternal instincts tell me that every day like this one merely serves to rip open a wound that had barely begun to scab over. To cause the pain to rise to the surface like the bile you struggle so hard to keep down when you’ve come nose-to-nose with a noxious odor that threatens to gag you. For I imagine they’d rather their daughter was facing murder charges alive than that she be dead.

Because anything–anything–would be better than death, for any parents. But especially for the parents of an only child.

So while the rest of us get out our noisemakers and champagne, the Neeses continue to grieve. For the baby they brought home from the hospital, for the little girl who ran around naked in her family home, for the teenager who became a confidante to so many of her peers. For Skylar Annette, who is lost to them forever.

As I sat in the waiting room on the third floor of the Mon County Courthouse yesterday, surrounded by media folks like me, these are the thoughts that ran through my mind. After a two-hour wait, when a court bailiff appeared to render the court’s verdict about Eddy’s status, my initial reaction was to cheer. I didn’t, of course. That would be inappropriate. In a criminal matter that has been filled with inappropriate behavior from all quarters. But I wanted to, much like I imagine most of Morgantown wanted to, when they heard the news tonight.

Then I learned something, something that gave me reason to pause. And I realized how fortunate the Shoaf and Eddy families are, that the Neeses are named in this criminal matter. For if it was any other family whose daughter was killed in cold blood, I doubt the Shoaf and the Eddy families would see such gracious consideration.

For all his “I hope they rot in hell” rhetoric, Dave Neese is, at his core, a sweetheart. Mary, his wife, is an older, more mature version of the daughter they lost. While most of Morgantown seems to have forgotten, and most of the country never really knew, the Neeses have not: just as Skylar was friends with Shelia and Rachel, they remember that Tara (Eddy) Clendennin and Patricia Shoaf were their friends. Women they welcomed into their home, and trusted to take care of their daughter.

So yes, Sept. 4, 2013, is, in a way, a day to celebrate. But it’s also a day for sorrow. For this case isn’t just about parental or teen friendships, it’s about what happens when the judicial system says that two teen girls must be treated as adults, in the matter of murder.

In the end, it appears there is nothing worth celebrating after all.

Editor’s note: Berry and award-winning editor Geoff Fuller (author of 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’s 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.”

One Year Later: Moving Forward on Skylar’s Story

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.

Dave and Mary Neese meet some of the strangers who have become their friends in the last year. They say the support of such people have given them strength to keep going.

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.”

Nathan Mitchell: “Sometimes you need a divorce attorney. Sometimes you need a hitman.”

Following the very public execution of her mother at a Morgantown, W.Va., Wal-Mart parking lot, three-year-old Faith Mitchell is nowhere to be found. Her father and grandmother fled their Harrison County home months ago, taking the toddler with them. They did this not long after Shannon Stafford’s foster family fought and gained visitation rights with Faith, who is Shannon’s daughter.

I confirmed this recently, when I spoke with neighbors of the Mitchell family. In the meantime, Shannon’s friends and family have been waiting for justice for more than a year, sick with worry over what would become of the toddler who even at such a young age bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother.

I blame the authorities for letting this happen. How is it that police, prosecutors and even Child Protective Services have done nothing, all this time? They had enough evidence the day of Shannon’s murder to remove Faith from her father’s custody. To place her with good people, people like Shannon’s family.

All Shannon wanted was to be with her daughter. This is a typical Facebook post about her concerns, and show the depth of Shannon’s love for Faith.

They had more reason to do so when they found further evidence that implicated Nathan Mitchell, when he told the world he hoped Shannon, his then soon-to-be ex-wife, would die. Which, of course, she did—at the hands of Mitchell’s father, Larry, who murdered Shannon on April 21, 2012. In December, the elder Mitchell pled guilty to first-degree murder in Monongalia County Circuit Court.

That Mitchell gunned down Stafford, 29, as she sat waiting in a truck to see her daughter for what was going to be the estranged mother’s first unsupervised visit following a contentious divorce and custody battle. At the time, Stafford was doing nothing—had done nothing—that could even be remotely construed as dangerous to her daughter or anyone else in the Mitchell family.

And yet, it’s amazing how many people I’ve run into whose eyebrows go up when they comment about the murder. People who automatically assume Shannon was a bad mother, simply by virtue of the fact that she was not allowed to see Faith without supervision. Or who have heard rumors that Shannon abused her daughter, and therefore believe the supervised visits were warranted.

Except they weren’t. They were just that: unconfirmed rumors and, more important, a manipulative tactic used by the Mitchell family in a long line of abuse directed at Stafford.

I conducted weeks of interviews and tracked down numerous documents last year, and I’m convinced Stafford wasn’t just a sitting duck the day she was killed: She was an easy target the entire time Nathan forced her into battle, using their daughter as a pawn, and then manipulating the court to give him custody by falsely accusing a woman who never did anything wrong in the first place.

In fact, Judy A. Sawyer, the guardian ad litem appointed for Faith, says just that in her Nov. 23, 2011, report to Family Court Judge Cornelia Reep. “Other than documentation from his PI (private investigator), he has provided nothing . . . that has been independently corroborated. What hurts his position even more is that on two occasions he alleges Faith was returned (from a supervised visit with her mother) in a condition that directly contradicted the findings of the nurse practitioner and this guardian ad litem,” Sawyer said in the brief she filed with the court, entitled, “Supplemental Report and Recommendation of Guardian Ad Litem.”

What Sawyer’s report doesn’t say is that Nathan should be the parent the state denies custody to, and forces to have supervised visits with Faith—if he gets custody at all.

That’s because in addition to the evidence I refer to above, that of Nathan’s Facebook posts, people who have known him for years say he’s dangerous. One person, who would only speak under condition of guaranteed anonymity, says Mitchell is “a very bad person (who is at first) very funny, charming, and (easygoing). Then you get to know the real Nathan. He is very unstable, controlling, and abusive.”

Four former friends who know him well say Nathan is a drug user who has taken intravenous anabolic steroids to build muscle and enhance performance for years. These drugs are believed to cause increased aggression and bipolar mood swings in the users. A 2008 study found a connection between their use and violent acts—such as the ones Nathan is well known for.

These four people, all who request anonymity out of extreme fear of what Nathan might do in retaliation, say the same thing as the one person who would go on record said about Mitchell.

“He was very much into lifting weights and getting bigger and stronger. He also obsessed (and) followed a very tight schedule of meals,” this person said. “He had to eat a full meal every two hours, because of using steroids and trying to bulk up.”

Tyra Nestor, one of Shannon’s foster sisters and the friend whose house Shannon fled to when Nathan forced her to leave shortly after becoming pregnant with Faith, Nestor said the needles were addressed to Nathan at Nestor’s home address.

People familiar with him also say Mitchell, who receives disability income for several medical conditions, including near-blindness, drives a vehicle and works earning money under the table at various odd jobs. His Facebook page once said he was employed as a foreman at Mitchell Construction. But now that he’s on the run, it’s anybody’s guess what he’s doing for work.

“He’s legally blind but yet he doesn’t appear to be blind at all. He goes wherever he wants to go and he drives, but collects disability,” Gwenda Adkins said. “Nathan drives after dark, too.”

Adkins spent almost every Saturday with Shannon and Faith for a year, since she was the person elected to provide supervision during the visits between mother and daughter. She is also Shannon’s foster sister-in-law.

“How could he take Faith to the doctor, when she needed to go, if he’s blind?” Adkins asked. “How does he even have a driver’s license?”

Adkins adds weight to the claims about the steroids, saying that before Shannon’s death, she told Adkins that Nathan used them.

It’s possible such steroid use led to the violent behavior many people say is part and parcel of Nathan’s personality. That violence is so bad even grown men are afraid of him—just as Shannon was. That’s why she never spoke about her ex-husband’s abuse. Not at first. But her friends and family suspected she was—because Nathan was so controlling.

Shannon Stafford

Many people related how Nathan kept Shannon from seeing or talking to her friends. And Shannon’s foster family said Nathan wouldn’t even let Shannon bring Faith for visits, while the couple was still married. The biggest red flag, though, was Shannon’s unwillingness to fight harder for Faith, when she first left Nathan.

“Not that she was malicious in any way, but for Shannon not to be fighting with fists for her daughter, it was because she was scared,” Tabitha Jeffries said.

Jeffries grew up next door to Shannon, and the two girls were best friends for many years. “She was scared to death of Nathan. His mom was at the top of the list, though . . . I know that Shannon made Nick (Helms) promise that if anything happened, that he would fight for Faith. In my heart of hearts, I think Shannon knew this was coming. I don’t think she expected it that day, but I think she knew,” Jeffries said.

That just about sums up Stafford’s only sin in this entire tragedy: she failed to speak up about the abuse she was suffering herself, at the hands of the entire Mitchell family. So no one knew what she was going through, until it was too late.

The most damning evidence to date about what many people are calling a Mitchell family conspiracy to kill Stafford comes from Nathan’s own Facebook page. Using an application called Status Shuffle, which allows a user to choose from among thousands of status updates and then post it as his own, Nathan posted the following comments before Stafford was killed.

“What do you do if you see your ex wife crawling on the road with a broken arm and leg in your rear view mirror? Put it in reverse and aim better.” 

“Sometimes you need a divorce attorney. Sometimes you need a hitman.”

Many people would dismiss such updates as dumb jokes made by an angry husband who’s going through a divorce—until you stop and realize Shannon died just such a violent death as depicted by those disturbing updates. Then you realize Nathan’s Facebook updates must be taken very seriously. As evidence. Did the police, the prosecutor or the people charged with protecting children do that? Apparently not—or Nathan and Sandra would never have been allowed to keep Faith, after this evidence came to light.

Last year, Shannon Stafford was a woman who never even wanted a custody battle, and who was prepared to willingly share custody with Faith’s father—even in spite of his violent habits. Today, her family continues Shannon’s fight for Faith, although it doesn’t look like much is happening. (A call to their attorney, Cranston and Edwards, was not returned.)

I can only wonder what Shannon would think now, if she knew Nathan accomplished what he set out to do—he has total control over Faith, the little girl who will soon look exactly like the woman he once talked of running over with a truck.

How safe will Faith be then?

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Skylar Neese: The Struggle to Find Closure Almost One Year Later

It’s been said there’s nothing more powerful than the elements: sun, moon, wind, or rain. But there is something stronger than the force of nature. It’s a mother’s love.

So it was that Mary Neese braved today’s scorching heat and high humidity to dedicate a bench to her daughter, Skylar, at a little piece of paradise along a narrow country road behind Blacksville. With the temperature hovering above 90-degrees, Mary and Dave Neese led the group of more than forty people in a solemn procession—not unlike that of a funeral—from Clay-Battelle High School.

The handmade bench donated by Susan Gibson and Jessie Gibson reads: “In Loving Memory
Skylar A. Neese, 1996-2012.”

Friends, family, and strangers who have become both to the Neeses in the 11 months and 13 days since Skylar was murdered July 6, 2012, gathered around the 15-year-old girl’s final resting place. They placed a hand-made bench at the site they have turned into a tribute to the former University High School student.

Some of the people in attendance got to meet Mary and Dave for the first time. Others have made the trek before, clearing away debris, planting flowers, and placing mementoes.

Tears were shed, hugs and laughter was shared. Not even the heat could mar the small ceremony. The only thing that could do that was the knowledge that a Greene County coroner—who apparently does have more power than the elements—refuses to let the Neeses spend just ten minutes alone with Skylar’s remains.

When I spoke with him yesterday afternoon, Gregory Rohanna, an elected official, told me his office isn’t “releasing any information because we’re still in an investigation phase.”

When I said the Attorney General’s office in Pennsylvania told me that officials there are not pursuing charges in this case, Rohanna said, “I don’t care who’s prosecuting, the coroner’s office would be in charge of the deceased’s remains. Until we conclude everything we need, we would not release those remains.”

When I pointed out that the Neeses have been unable to have a measure of closure in their daughter’s murder, Rohanna said that’s because the FBI kept her body for so long. “We just received some of the remains back from the FBI within the last couple of days. I have not had the remains. The FBI has had them. But we’re still investigating because we need to do the things we need to do,” he said.

I then asked if his office has tried to work with the Neeses at all, in this regard. “I had a request in January not to contact them. We went along with that request,” Rohanna said, adding that his first contact with them occurred Friday night. He refused to say who had directed him not to talk to the Neeses.

Even though Monongalia County Prosecutor Marcia Ashdown has said Skylar was stabbed to death, I asked Rohanna if the FBI has done an autopsy or determined the cause of death. Rohanna said he couldn’t comment about that. But he did say this: “There has been no official cause of death issued,” and that since Skylar’s body was discovered in Greene County, he is the person who must issue the official cause of her death.

Rohanna wouldn’t say how much more time he needs to complete his investigation.

Life continues to be filled with one surreal day after another for the Neeses, as Mary grieves for the daughter she hasn’t seen since Skylar kissed her goodnight last July 5. Hoping to see the fulfillment of the promise they say federal agents made them, to sit and grieve with a closed package containing Skylar’s remains, Dave says he plans to picket the coroner’s office Monday and says he doesn’t care if he is arrested for doing so.

A call to the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office about the matter was directed to the agency’s media line, but a recording said no one is available until Monday.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”