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.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.”