BRAVE – As Russell LeMasters worked up a sweat wielding a sledge hammer to install a newly-refurbished bench at the Skylar Neese memorial site near Morris Run Road in Wayne Township last month, he never expected the bench that held more sentimental value than actual monetary value would be stolen.
Skylar Neese, 16, of Star City W.Va., was stabbed to death July 6, 2012, by two friends, and her body wasn’t found until six months later where the memorial site is now located.
Her parents, Mary and Dave Neese, along with support from the community, have worked to keep the place of remembrance presentable to the public and a spot where people can come to reflect. A wooden bench was placed at the memorial site not long after Skylar’s body was found. LeMasters of Morgantown, W.Va., who is a close friend of the Neese family, added another bench to the site Sept. 12 to offer another place for people to reflect.
He planned to build a concrete slab around the bench to keep people out of the mud and also to keep the bench from ever being moved, but when he came back Sept. 30, the bench was gone. All that remained were two small holes in the ground where he had pounded in the angle iron poles.
“What I really think can’t be printed in the newspaper,” LeMasters said. “It was not an easy task for the person who took the bench. I just don’t understand who would do something like this.”
Facebook posts about the stolen bench have been shared more than 200 times in the past week and have rallied support in this area and near Morgantown. The family and LeMasters are overwhelmed with the amount of support they have received from their community.
“We have already received five or six donations for brand new benches to be placed at the site for Skylar,” LeMasters said. “But it wouldn’t be the same.”
The bench once belonged to Skylar’s family and “was in pretty bad shape,” he said, but it held sentimental value. They took the bench to Industrial Solutions in Morgantown, which power coated it for them for free. LeMasters then bought new oaks planks and polished and sanded them before connecting them to the iron frame.
“We brought it back,” he said.
A $200 reward is being offered for the bench to be returned, and the family is asking people to contact authorities if they have any information on how to find it. Anyone with information about the bench is asked to contact Southwest Regional police at 724-929-8484.
“That’s more than what the bench is actually worth,” LeMasters said. “We don’t even care about prosecution right now. We just want the bench back.”
Skylar’s two friends, Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy, both of Morgantown, lured Skylar from her West Virginia home with the intent of killing her, although Shoaf told police Skylar thought they were taking her somewhere to party. Shoaf and Eddy stabbed Skylar to death in Wayne Township where the memorial is currently located.
Eddy is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, while Shoaf was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading to second-degree murder.