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 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!
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.”
Cindy Cramer · July 19, 2014 at 6:41 PM
Daleen, I read Sister Of Silence and loved it. I was particularly interested in the sections regarding your Preston County Investigations. I lived in Terra Alta and knew those boys who disappeared. I admired your story, and commend you for making a good life for yourself after going through your childhood and having to grow up too fast. Thank you for writing your story, and sharing it with us.
Michele · July 25, 2014 at 1:09 AM
I just want to thank you and Geoff for taking the time to write Skylar’s story. I was born and raised in Morgantown, and it is still extremely hard to go through the day during the school year and knowing that my mother and my daughter, friends, neighbors and relatives walk those same halls at UHS day after day. I don’t know Dave and Mary personally, nor did I know Skylar. Except to see them in passing, etc. Now when I pass Dave and Mary, I burst into tears. I cannot fathom the horror they have went through. I am sure that by knowing that people will read Skylar’s story, and that Skylar’s Law was passed, that they can always at least feel that through these two things, Skylar will be HELPING PEOPLE and she WILL be there for people through all eternity. I am undoubtedly sure that Skylar will always be missed. But I have said, and will now say to you ” They say that Skylar made an impact on everyone that met her. But we need to remember that her killers did not silence her. They didn’t cause her to vanish forever as they had hoped. What they did do was make it so that Skylar will go on forever and make an impact on people all over the world. It is very sad what has happened. Words cannot fully discribe it all. And in the end, Skylar got revenge just by simply being herself.” Again, Daleen and Geoff, thank you ever so much. You have helped Skylar to touch lives and to reach people all over the world. God bless!
jenica · July 31, 2014 at 1:41 AM
I have a story that needs to told…I dont know how to write it but I know the story. It ends when my.beautiful 18 year old boy commits suicide.sone things do not make since with his friends that were with him. Police never did anything other than call it suicide.
#55strong: As Strike Ends, Teachers Reflect on Their Roles as Educators – New York Times Best-Selling Author Daleen Berry · February 28, 2018 at 11:49 AM
[…] a long-time crime reporter, I know that verbal threats meet the legal definition of assault. Battery is when a student […]