MORGANTOWN, WV (WBOY) — This time of year is particularly hard for the family of Skylar Neese. What started as a missing person case 10 years ago Wednesday turned into their worst nightmare when it was discovered that Skylar was lured to a wooded area in Brave, Pennsylvania and stabbed by who she thought were her best friends.

“It’s hard… it starts in July. July the 4th. I just start getting sad and crying, and so it takes a couple of days before I can get over it,” said Carol Michaud, Skylar’s aunt.

The Neese family doesn’t want Skylar to be remembered for the tragic circumstances surrounding her death, but rather for the compassionate person that she was. A lover of animals, people and even insects.

Skylar Neese’s aunt, Carol Michaud, puts a lady bug garden up in honor of Skylar.

“She came in one day and said, ‘Daddy, I need a piece of bread,’” said Dave Neese, Skylar’s father. “And I said, ‘Honey, what do you need the bread for?’ She said, ‘I’m feeding the ants,’ and I said, ‘Feed the ants? Don’t do that,’ and she said, ‘Well, Daddy, they have to eat, too.’ That’s the kind of heart she had. It was golden.”

Not only kind-hearted, but she was also smart, driven and had a sense of humor. Many of Skylar’s family members remember her for her smile and infectious giggle. Michaud said they used to catch ladybugs together, and she had a flair for practical jokes.

“She would pick on me all the time. One time, I was at work, and I was getting ready for a Christmas party. I decided I was going to make tissue paper look a little old, and I didn’t realize how fast it burns. So, I caught it on fire, and she started calling me Sparky,” Michaud laughed, “And for Christmas, she got a spark plug and made it a Christmas ornament and wrapped it up for me for Christmas. So I still have a spark plug Christmas ornament from her.”

“We were having a tea party, and it was Skylar-Daddy day. So, Mommy had to work, and we had many Skylar-Daddy days,” Neese remembered, “So, Skylar got the water, and she would dump it in the pitcher, and I drank it, and Mary comes home from work, and said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ Skylar said, ‘We’re having a tea party. Daddy is the customer, and I am the waitress.’ And Mary looked at me and said, ‘Dave, Skylar can’t reach the faucet. Where is she getting the water from?’ And I said, ‘Skylar, where are you getting that water from, that daddy already drank 20 cups of?’ She grabs my hand and pulls me into the bathroom and points to the toilet and says, ‘Right there, daddy.'”

Neese laughed, “Yeah, that was a classic. I don’t think she meant to do that. That was just who she was. I mean, a lot of fun. She didn’t see anything wrong with that, you know? She just dipped it out of the toilet and I drank it. Yeah, that’s Skylar.”

I don’t want any parent to have to go through what we went through. It changed our lives forever, and it will never be the same.

Carol Michaud, Skylar’s aunt

But Skylar’s memory doesn’t just live on through her family’s stories, but also through Skylar’s Law, which was passed in West Virginia in 2013. The law expanded the Amber Alert system to include children who are proven to be in danger—not just abduction. Tom Bloom, Monongalia County Commission member and Skylar’s counselor at University High School, helped pass the law and said that since then, it has helped find dozens of kids and was enacted in other states. Bloom and Neese hope to work with Sen. Joe Manchin (D, W.Va.) to pass the law federally.

When Skylar went missing, she didn’t meet the criteria for an Amber Alert because she was considered a runaway. It was discovered that she snuck out of her window that night to meet her friends. But, the Neese family said they knew something was wrong because this was out of character for Skylar.

Skylar Neese was a University High School student.

“When we found out that that’s what Skylar did, it was a very big shock to me because I just never would have thought she would have done that,” Michaud said, “It opened my eyes to a lot of things, and even if children aren’t my kids and I’m close to them, I’ve caught myself questioning them and making sure that they’re safe. I don’t want any parent to have to go through what we went through. It changed our lives forever, and it will never be the same.”

Skylar’s parents also began speaking at schools, churches and prisons about Skylar’s Promise. Skylar’s killers allegedly plotted the murder over a long period of time, which students at University High School overheard.

“They were sent to the office, and the principal said, ‘They make good grades’ and sent them back to class. Didn’t even look into it, didn’t even try to find out what was going on,” said Dave, “But, the Skylar’s Promise is basically telling kids, ‘Hey, I promise if I hear something like that, I’ll take it to a responsible adult, a guidance counselor or anyone like that that can do something about it.'”

The other part of education for Skylar’s parents is showing people that crimes committed against one person have a ripple effect on other people in their lives. They hope that by sharing Skylar’s story, they can prevent further tragedies from taking place.

“I was in prison just last Thursday doing a talk, and one of the prisoners stood up, and he said, ‘I want to apologize,’ and I said, ‘Apologize for what?’ He said, ’20 years ago, I was those two girls. I did take someone’s life, and I’m in here paying for it, but until I heard you talk about it, and the ripple effect, I didn’t get it. Now I get it. I understand, and I’m sorry.’ That shows me that it’s working,” Neese said.

Neese said the community that Skylar’s story built spans across the country and even worldwide. He said he often gets letters from people saying that her story touched them. Perhaps the best example of the strength of the community that was created around the Neese family is the memorial near Brave, PA. It’s a massive memorial site where people left license plates from as far as Oregon and other trinkets for Skylar. One of Neese’s friends, Jacki Morgan, wrote ‘Forever Sixteen’ from Neese’s perspective. He said it was like she reached in his head and pulled out what he was thinking.

Forever Sixteen

I am often told how strong of a man I am. That is not a true statement. I do what is necessary to survive each day.

Unless you have lost a loved one to a senseless and vicious murder, you will never be able to comprehend the pain faced every day as I awaken only to remember, once again, that my daughter is no longer with us. It is as if I lose her again each and every morning.

On a backroad in Brave, PA my heart was ripped from my body and will never be the same again. While others my age share photographs of their grandchildren, my child is frozen in time in a school photo in my wallet, forever sixteen. I will never have the opportunity to walk her down the aisle as the wedding march plays and lift her veil to kiss her as I give her hand to another man. Her mother will never have the occasion to behold her daughter’s hand as she labors to bring forth new life.

However, as insurmountable as our loss has been, it does not compare to what was taken from Skylar. She had her life stolen from her before she could graduate from University High School with honors. She was never able to attend college and become the lawyer that she intended to be. Her kindness to those that were a bit different and to every living thing could have made a major impact on the world that she knew. The life of a spirited and loving young woman such as Skylar Neese, that is something that you cannot begin to grasp exactly what could have been.

Absolution is not a possibility at this point in them. It is my honest assessment that it will never be a likelihood. Forgiveness is a process, a choice you have to make over and over until you are free of all the hurt and pain. My precious daughter was not only viciously murdered by two individuals that she believed to be her most trusted friends, they also betrayed her on levels that a rational person could never comprehend.

Due to sickness and evil, Skylar will be forever sixteen.

Written by Jacki Morgan