STAR CITY, W.Va. (AP) — The parents of a 16-year-old West Virginia girl who authorities say was killed nearly a year ago by her best friends canceled plans to protest Monday outside the office of a Pennsylvania coroner after receiving assurances they will be able to see her body in about a week.
Dave Neese said the Monongalia County prosecutor's office called him and persuaded him to call off the protest. Neese said his daughter Skylar will be returned to West Virginia when all the paperwork and formalities are completed. West Virginia State Police will then arrange for him and his wife, Mary, to see her body.
"I'm kind of nervous," he said, sighing deeply as he thought about what it will mean to see the girl who slipped quietly out the window of her ground-floor bedroom last July 6 and never came home. "It's going to be very emotional, for sure ... I have no words to describe how it feels. It's just horrible."
Neese had paced around the kitchen of his Star City apartment for hours Monday morning, talking to supportive friends about the protest and arguing with officials trying to talk him out of it.
The Neeses were frustrated and confused about why Greene County Coroner Gregory Rohanna wouldn't give them access to their daughter's body. Skylar's remains had been in the custody of the FBI at Quantico, Va., from the time they were found in January until about a week ago, when the couple says they were returned to the county coroner with jurisdiction over the case.
Dave Neese said he heard several different reasons that Rohanna could not release the body or let him see it.
"We were told whatever was released back to them isn't evidence anyway," he said, "so what's the problem?"
Neese said he accepts — for now — the prosecutor's explanation that releasing the body takes time and paperwork.
"He should have said that Friday," Neese said. "To just to say you're going to do whatever you want, whenever you want and however you want, and I have no say-so — yeah, I was mad."
Rohanna didn't immediately return a telephone call or email messages to his office in Waynesburg, Pa.
One of Skylar's closest friends — 16-year-old Rachel Shoaf — has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, telling a judge she stabbed the victim in a remote part of Wayne Township, Pa.
Shoaf admitted planning the murder with another girl who hasn't been identified because her case remains in juvenile court. Skylar Neese was an honors student at University High School, and her father said the three girls were close.
But Shoaf, police and prosecutors have all refused to offer a motive for the attack.
Dave Neese said Shoaf has told authorities the girls didn't want to be friends with his daughter anymore, but he knows there's more to it than that. He has more questions than answers.
At her plea hearing last month, Shoaf admitted only that she and the other suspect drove the victim to a secluded spot on a gravel road in Pennsylvania — just minutes from the unincorporated West Virginia community of Macdale — and stabbed Skylar to death at an agreed-upon moment.
They tried to bury her but hid her body under branches when they couldn't.
On Sunday, the family put a long wooden bench at the site, which sits in the woods just off a gravel road leading to a remote coal mine portal. An oversized photo of the smiling brunette stands inside a heart-shaped ring of white-painted rocks. Silk flowers, colorful butterflies and a cross painted to look as if it's been tie-dyed stood nearby Monday afternoon, a few pink balloons caught in the tree limbs above.
The cold calculation and brutality of the plot shocked a small town already frustrated by the slow pace and secrecy surrounding the case. Investigators have said nothing publicly about the case since announcing the charges against Shoaf on May 1.
Prosecutors say in the court documents they plan to recommend a 20-year prison sentence and will oppose any move to have Shoaf sentenced as a juvenile. But she could get as many as 40 years under the law.
Shoaf's family issued a public apology but has made no further statements.