Skylar Annette Neese was born to Mary and Dave Neese on February 10, 1996. Often described as intelligent, compassionate, stubborn and "bubbly", Skylar was an only child. She grew up and went to elementary school in Cheat Lake, West Virginia, a census-designated area northeast of Morgantown. When Skylar was in the second grade, she met Shelia Eddy at a community center (Shack Neighborhood House) right outside Morgantown. Shelia (born September 29, 1995) too was an only child, to Tara and Greg Eddy. Despite the fact that Shelia lived in Blacksville, twenty miles west of Morgantown, the two girls immediately became friends. While living in Blacksville, Shelia also had ties to Brave, a cencus-designated area of a few hundred people a few miles west of Blacksville. Part of the Rust Belt region, Blacksville and Brave had been impoverished by mine closures over the years.
Shelia's father had been seriously injured in a car accident that left him partially disabled and unable to work. The parents divorced in 2000. When Shelia's mother Tara remarried to James Clendenen, the family moved to Morgantown, and Shelia and Skylar finally teamed up as freshmen1 in high school (University High) in October 2010. Many noted how Shelia (or, rather, her new stepfather) could suddenly afford things she only could have dreamed of a few years earlier, and some have claimed that she used her sexuality to become more popular in this new environment, having left most of her friends behind in Blacksville. However, others students say people started talking unfavorably of Shelia only after her arrest. She seems to have been more highly regarded among boys than girls, and that the feeling was mutual. Shelia wasn't the only one moving closer to Morgantown: Soon after Skylar's freshman year, her family moved from Stonepath Townhouses in Cheat Lake to Star City, a tiny city enclosed by the city of Morgantown and the Monongahela river.
At University High the two met the red-haired Rachel Shoaf, your typical if somewhat gifted aspiring actress/singer. Like Skylar and Shelia, she too was an only child2 (born June 10, 1996), and, like Shelia, her parents (Patricia and Rusty) too had divorced. She was also very religious, being an active participant in Young Life activities and having attended the St. Francis Catholic School before University High. The three started hanging out together and getting into trouble (drinking, smoking weed, breaking curfew). In retrospect, parents and friends of both Skylar and Rachel have claimed that Shelia was a bad influence. Skylar's cousin, Kyle, described Shelia as "a bad seed." Some of Skylar's friends avoided hanging out with her when she was with Shelia, whom they described as mean and controlling. Rachel's friends had similar reservations about Shelia, whom they blamed for changes in Rachel's personality and behavior. Nevertheless, Skylar had no intention of breaking up her relationship with Shelia, a friend she looked up to. Rachel's reasons for staying with Shelia are less obvious. She was from a relatively affluent family and thus more popular: She didn't need Shelia for her status. Perhaps she simply liked the fact that with Shelia she was able to do things, including intimate things, that she could not do with those friends who shared her religious background.
Despite Shelia being often described as the root of all evil, it was Rachel entering the picture that caused group dynamics and loyalties to shift. For a while, everything seemed to be going fine, even great, until their sophomore year. Skylar was put into an uncomfortable position when, during a sleepover in late summer 2011, she watched Shelia and Rachel have drunken sex together. The sleepover ended with Skylar and Shelia arguing. A rift began to grow between Skylar and Shelia, while Shelia and Rachel were growing closer. Skylar started to feel excluded: Often Shelia and Rachel would dress alike, leaving Skylar the odd girl out. Both Shelia and Rachel were sexually active and had boyfriends, while in this group Skylar came off as an immature little sister who just had to tag along, but who also knew the girls' secrets. Skylar hinted at this on Twitter several times, such as on September 6, 2011: "id tell the whole school all the shit i have on everyone, which is a lottttt #IfICouldGetAwayWithIt." Arguments (often on Twitter) between Skylar and Shelia continued to worsen. A tipping point came when, in early June 2012 Skylar and Shelia spent their entire one-week trip to the Myrtle Beach fighting. When they got home, Shelia told Rachel Skylar must die.
Shelia's call for murder didn't come out of the blue. Fellow students and a teacher at University High overheard the girls discuss best ways to dispose of a body in October 2011. Given that it was during a biology class focusing on forensic science and that a body had been found behind the school only some weeks earlier, it'd seem the girls' topic hardly seemed out of place. But, according to those who were there, the girls specifically were trying to figure out a way "to get rid of Skylar." When the conversation was relayed to Skylar, she ignored it, saying it's just a game they've been playing. Even so, she confronted the girls about their conversation, but they assured her it was nothing. But that wasn't the only warning sign: In the spring of 2012, worried that Skylar might blackmail them, Rachel told another student "I wouldn't mind if she died." According to Marcia Ashdown, the case's prosecutor, it was that spring when the girls first started seriously planning the murder of their friend: A half-jokingly blurted "We should kill her" during a science class was followed by the girls nodding in agreement. Still, despite all the dysfunction, the group continued to hang out together, and while Skylar was painfully and regretfully aware of the state of her friendship with Shelia, still her best friend, she had no idea what was coming.
1 In the American high school system, first grade students are called freshmen, second grade students sophomores, and third and fourth grade students juniors and seniors, respectively.
2 She has an older half-brother but he didn't live with the Shoafs.